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Congo Tense as Vote Count Moves Forward


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

The Democratic Republic of Congo celebrated its first election in 40 years late last month with an 80 percent turnout. It's just been a few years since the country suffered a devastating war that left at least four million people dead.


Now, at a handful of centers where the ballots are being counted, initial results have been posted - causing something of a stir. For an update, we turn to Jason Stearns. He's a senior analyst from the International Crisis Group, following the elections from the city of Goma.

Mr. JASON STEARNS (Senior Analyst, International Crisis Group): The results have shown that Joseph Kabila, the current president, has won a landslide in the eastern part of the country. And in the whole of the country, he is ahead. If you look at the total results in this very small sample size, he's winning with around 70 percent of the votes throughout the whole country.

Now, this has sparked a huge debate, and I think there's been a lot of irresponsible use of these results - like people supporting Kabila saying this is - he's going to win. People who are not supporting Kabila - and notably the people who're supporting the runner-up at the moment, which is Jean-Pierre Bemba - say that there's been a bias in releasing the votes, the votes from the east predominately that have been released. That could be the stronghold.

MONTAGNE: Jean-Pierre Bemba, he is a former rebel leader, and I gather a bit notorious.

Mr. STEARNS: Yes, Jean-Pierre Bemba is the leader of a movement for the liberation of the Congo that was backed during the war by Uganda. He occupied the north of the country, and in the Congo he's notorious because his troops have been accused of cannibalism. And then, in the recent months, the Central African Republican has asked the International Criminal Court to look at abuses by his soldiers in the Central African Republic several years ago.


MONTAGNE: It sounds as if there's a certain restlessness about what's going on with the vote. And E.U. observers also came out this week and called for more transparency.

Mr. STEARNS: Well, first of all, I think we have to say that the voting day itself was very, very smooth, and for the most part of the country, fairly calm. Now, it's a huge country. This is the first real democratic vote they've had in 40 years, so of course there was logistical nightmares just getting all the results and then counting them.

In Kinshasa, I think, is where the biggest problems have been - the compilation centers in Kinshasa, ballots are strewn about. In the east, where I am, it actually looks like the compilation is going fairly smoothly, but there's been a lot of accusations that there was a lot of stuffing of ballot boxes, political meddling, or even military meddling on election day.

But all of these accusations are going to be very difficult to verify until a proper investigation is held. And I think that's the next step, and the electoral commission is about to do that.

MONTAGNE: Is it possible that this vote could cause more suspicion and anger?

Mr. STEARNS: Well, the immediate concern is an east-west divide. People in the popular neighborhoods of Kinshasa, which is, of course - it's a huge, sprawling metropolis with very high levels of poverty and misery. It's a very tense situation, especially in the capital, Kinshasa, because I don't think Kabila is going to get more than 20 percent of the vote, probably. Now we'll have to wait and see, but that's what it seems like now.

People there say that if Kabila passes in the first round - if he wins 51 percent of the vote and there is no run-off - then they will take to the streets and they will riot.

MONTAGNE: Jason Stearns is a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, speaking from Goma, the Congo.

Thanks for joining us.

Mr. STEARNS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.