August 13, 2006

Anger in Congo capital as Kabila builds poll lead

By David Lewis

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Hackles are rising in Congo's volatile
capital Kinshasa as incumbent President Joseph Kabila builds a
lead with results trickling in from the country's first free
elections in more than four decades.

Electoral officials stress drawing a trend with so few
votes counted is premature but their advice is being roundly
ignored as Kabila stretches his lead over former rebel chief
Jean-Pierre Bemba, possibly heading for a win in the first

The latest results on Sunday, from 65 of the 169
constituencies, gave Kabila some 48 percent of the vote while
Bemba headed the field of 31 challengers with around 18
percent. A candidate needs over half the vote to win outright.

The independent electoral commission is due to announce
provisional results on August 20 but Kabila's strong showing in
his native Swahili-speaking east has already put people on edge
in the Lingala-speaking capital where he is deeply unpopular.

"There was cheating on a huge scale. Why do you whites
support Kabila?" asked Dokole Botonge, an unemployed Kinshasa
resident in his 20s, voicing anger and disbelief at the initial
trend with results from the capital still awaited.

Congo's July 30 elections -- meant to draw a line under a
1998-2003 war that has killed some four million people -- were
overseen by over 17,000 U.N. peacekeepers, themselves backed by
a 1,000-strong EU force in the capital.

"If on the 20th you tell us Kabila is president, we'll take
to the streets. The EU force will have to come and kill us.
Kabila will never be our president," Botonge said, adding he
voted for Bemba simply because he spoke his language.


Although still accounting for just a fraction of more than
25 million registered voters, the count so far is fuelling
speculation in the capital that Kabila will avoid a run-off.

"It's not going to be clean or pretty but it seems Kabila
will go through in a first round," one diplomat told Reuters.

"I think there is going to be some noise in Kinshasa. But
Kinshasa is not the Congo -- people elsewhere are not clamoring
for Bemba to be president."

The initial results have underlined a divide between the
Swahili- and Lingala-speaking areas. In parts of Kinshasa they
have also heightened frustrations over the international
community's perceived preference for Kabila.

"We Congolese, authentic Congolese, are deceived by these
elections. We don't like Kabila or his friends from the east,"
said Huguette, a middle-aged lady selling dough balls in
Matonge, a Kinshasa neighborhood.

Congo is a vast nation -- roughly the size of western
Europe -- and the international community spent some $450
million organizing an operation to allow millions of Congolese
to vote in over 50,000 polling stations across the country.

The influential Catholic Church issued a statement on
Saturday acknowledging reports of attempted manipulation, fraud
and vote-rigging but urging followers to wait and see how
serious an impact they would have on the polls.

Election day passed relatively smoothly but some U.N.
officials worry about a backlash in the volatile capital.

"The population is now taking the initiative and the
parties opposed to Kabila will take advantage of anger coming
from the people," one U.N. official warned.