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South African ambassador: the IEC must take centre stage

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Monuc - August 4, 2006

Sisa Ngombane

As official election results are still awaited, figures have already been circulated by some media and candidates. These premature announcements of  “winners” have exacerbated political tensions. We interviewed Sisa Ngombane, the South African ambassador in the DRC, whose country had a critical role in bringing former belligerents together to agree to a transition process, to get his views at this crucial stage of the electoral process.










INTERVIEW


What was your impression of the elections in general?

We have no interest in seeing the process collapse and we want to do all we can to improve the situation.

Our impressions are very good. We delivered [Thursday] the election observation mission report of the 120 South African observers who were here in all the corners of Congo.

The reports that we have are systematic in showing that the elections were good, with some incidences of violence here and there. The materials were there for the voters, and they had their ballot papers on the day in the right place.

It was very encouraging as the people were very enthusiastic and peaceful. We feel that it is a great achievement. The day should not be minimized, but should remain long in the memory.

Currently there is an atmosphere of tension and uneasiness among the political parties as they await the election results. What is your impression of the situation at present?

The situation is starting to become difficult in terms of the political atmosphere between the candidates. We had hoped, as part of the international community, that the government would keep functioning, that the president and the vice presidents would be seen to be engaged in issues of governance, and that the cabinet would meet.

But, as we await the results, everything is at a standstill and it is not a good sign. Everyone is in their corner, and tensions are mounting, as people are trying to absorb and internalize the meaning of the results. It is new for everybody. There are some truths that have come home, including some that are not so nice.

There are people who know that they have lost, and what they are doing is making a catalogue of what they think has gone wrong on the day of the vote -fabricated or true. Their major preoccupation now is to say that the elections were a fraud, and cannot be accepted.

I think our biggest challenge is to try and deal with the wait. It must not be so long that people begin to feel that they are being denied whatever is due to them. You have a system whereby the results are partially known, partially unknown, and then you have places where there is a blackout in terms of results. This is beginning to feed a lot of tension, and we need to manage this situation.

What can South Africa do to improve the situation?
There have been some issues, but all this should not take away from the achievement of the Congolese people.

In our view it is important that serious steps are undertaken, and we are going to sensitize everybody in the international community and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) about this.

It is true that the provisional results will be announced on August 20. But nothing stops us from finding out which province has results, even the presidential, and the IEC must tell the people that in province A, for example, a particular presidential candidate was number one. The people are uneasy, the commission needs to give the results as they come in, and allow the parties to argue and query them. If this occurs, then it doesn’t allow an atmosphere of rumour and speculation to arise.

Everybody can then see from the results that have been announced by the IEC that there are two leading candidates. But you cannot sit on presidential results until August 20. It is clearly not going to work.

Do you think it is possible to influence the IEC in this regard?

I think everyone is open to a discussion in relation to what we can do to ease the tension. We do feel strongly that this “free for all” is dangerous. I think that the results, if they have been compiled and verified without ambiguity, must be given to the nation. The presidential race is the most important, as this is what is creating all the tension in town.

It is absolutely important that the IEC takes centre stage, and they cannot take centre stage by not announcing the results, as everybody is waiting. We have also been waiting, we are also tense, let alone the candidates. If this continues then what happens is that the problems will overtake us. But, if those steps which we are suggesting were taken, it would really help the situation at this critical time.

We, the international community, want to cooperate with the candidates, to look for the possible solutions that might help us manage the situation, as we have no interest in seeing the process collapse. We want to do all we can to improve the situation, as clearly the pace of the process is just not fast enough, and we cannot wait and wait.

What would be your message to the Congolese people and the various presidential candidates at this time?

We have seen the Congolese at their best, coming out to express their will, saying we have a country, we love it, and we will go out and vote. We think that it was a very important statement.

We are saying that they should not be denied the right to know the results, but we are asking them to be patient. We hope that they will know the results sooner rather than later.

To the presidential candidates and all other candidates we want to say that the elections in Congo were by and large a very good achievement for the Congolese. There will be mistakes, and there have been some issues, but all this should not take away from the achievement of the Congolese people.

They had a proper election, let’s finish it up by a proper counting and a results process that is transparent. If we go that route, we would hope that everyone would accept the results with all dignity and say “yes, I tried my best, it wasn’t to be this time, and I will try again next time”.


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