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Carter Center: Presidential and legislatives results are credible

By Carter Center | Published on September 1, 2006

Congo - Elections The Carter Center did not find evidence of widespread or systematic manipulation. The Center concludes that the presidential results announced August 20 are credible; legislative results, on the whole, are also credible, but cannot be validated in detail because of the shortcomings outlined in this statement, August 31, 2006.

There were a number of important procedural flaws that weakened the transparency of the process. The Center believes these must be addressed prior to the second round in order to avoid more serious problems and to ensure acceptance of the results. The tabulation of provisional results for the July 30 presidential election was generally successful, due to the diligence of electoral staff in spite of difficult working conditions.

Serious flaws in the collection and chain of custody of electoral materials, especially in Kinshasa but also in other locations around the country, undermined transparency and threatened the credibility of the process. The publication of results by polling station was a crucial measure in strengthening public confidence. The recent violence in Kinshasa between armed troops loyal to candidates Kabila and Bemba was a threat to democracy in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Serious efforts are needed by both camps, and by international actors, to prevent further acts of violence and to create the conditions for a peaceful second round, respectful of the will of the people. The Carter Center remains committed to the DRC democratic process and will deploy observers throughout the country for the second round of the presidential elections.

The calm and orderly manner in which voting took place for the presidential and legislative elections of July 30 throughout most of the DRC was a major milestone for the democratic process and the Congolese people were quite rightly proud of this achievement. High voter turnout was another indication of the strong desire on the part of the population to finally choose its own leaders.

In the vast majority of cases, polling station staff took their responsibilities very seriously and worked diligently, throughout the night and in difficult conditions, to complete the counting process. The challenges were enormous and the deadlines very tight for these first democratic elections, and everyone involved in making them happen - the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI); the United Nations (MONUC); the international community; and Congolese parties, organizations, and individuals - can share in a genuine sense of accomplishment.

The purpose of this statement is to follow-up on our preliminary statement of August 1, provide a brief assessment of the compilation process, and identify issues that deserve urgent attention prior to the second round.

As of this writing, the Supreme Court is still reviewing appeals to the provisional presidential results, and the legislative results have not yet been completed. After the completion of the elections, the Carter Center will issue a final report of detailed findings and suggestions to inform planning for future elections.

Vote Tabulation
On the whole, the tabulation of provisional results was a success. It was a very complex process, confronted by considerable logistical challenges, but the posting of results by polling station has allowed all interested people to confirm that their choice was faithfully transmitted.

While certain weaknesses in the training of election staff were apparent, the diligence and sense of responsibility of many individuals ensured that the process was carried through to a successful conclusion.

Carter Center observers reported in some areas that the tabulation of votes was managed impeccably. Individual attempts at corruption during tabulation were observed, as they were during polling day, but these were evidently not widespread, and the CEI appears to have dealt with them quickly and appropriately.

The most serious problems were the result of logistical and procedural failures. The electoral law sets out a process whereby the voting center officials, under security escort, should carry all their materials, including the tally sheets in sealed envelopes, in an orderly fashion to the local tabulation centers (referred to by their French acronym, CLCR) where these materials would be formally received and accounted for.

This chain of custody of electoral materials is an essential guarantee against any tampering with the results between the polling station and the CLCR and constitutes an important measure of transparency, and hence reassurance, to the population. In many places around the country, the collection of results fell into disarray.

Voting center chiefs generally did not receive a security escort, and the electoral materials, which lacked proper packaging, were very often not kept intact, nor efficiently collected and accounted for upon arrival at the CLCR.

In many CLCR's, envelopes containing the tally sheets were either received unsealed or were opened by the voting center chiefs upon arrival at the CLCR, either to obtain information that was sealed inside or to redistribute the contents between envelopes. In the face of popular anxieties regarding manipulation, such disregard for essential procedures posed a considerable vulnerability for the process.

This practice was far too common and, of particular concern, was often a result of instructions by CLCR staff. It is troubling that even CLCR staff has not understood the importance of respecting the integrity of the election materials. Envelopes should only be opened by CLCR staff themselves, inside the controlled environment of the CLCR, and in the presence of witnesses and observers.

Despite these potentially serious problems, the Center has not found any evidence of large-scale or systematic tampering with the results and most of the irregularities appear to stem from innocent attempts to cope with difficulties as they arose. But the breakdown in these procedures, which are designed to exclude the possibility of such tampering, makes it difficult to respond properly to any allegations that manipulation may have occurred.

Difficulties in Kinshasa
In Kinshasa, the orderly collection and chain of custody of results were entirely lacking. A poorly-conceived collection plan left voting center officials waiting sometimes for days to be picked up with their election materials, and ultimately led to the abandonment, careless handling, and, in some cases, destruction of these materials.

The generalized chaos was exacerbated by bulk transport arrangements, that were made without regard for the proper handling of materials, and by district election offices (BL) and CLCR's that were not ready to receive the materials efficiently.

The decision to use BLs as collection points, in the complete absence of facilities or even personnel to handle the materials, turned these BL into simple dumping grounds for materials and was a primary element in the breakdown in the collection system.

Most troubling was the willful destruction of electoral materials by CEI officials in at least two Kinshasa BL's, a violation for which there are specific penalties in the election law. The Carter Center collected evidence of a large fire involving burned ballots and other election materials at the N'Jili BL and presented it to the president of the CEI, who, to his credit, responded quickly and appropriately, immediately announcing measures to address the situation.

The Center continues to await the final outcome of the investigation into this incident, but the prompt action on the part of the CEI helped to defuse the issue in public and to limit the damage done to the credibility of the CEI. Nonetheless, the incident added to the list of questions and concerns regarding the integrity of election materials.

Transparency Means Credibility
Part of the response to the results collection crisis in Kinshasa was a public commitment by the CEI to publish results for every polling station across the country. This data was presented very effectively on the CEI's Web site, and posted at CLCR's around the country.

While it did not completely resolve questions about the rupture of the chain of custody, it offered a good remedial measure through which the public, political parties, and observers could assure themselves that what they had themselves witnessed at the polling stations was faithfully conveyed in the final results.

Without this crucial step, it would have been impossible to defend the process against claims of manipulation, whether founded or not, or to attest to the credibility of the Kinshasa results. One immediate problem that remains is that the mishandling, misplacement, and loss of ballot papers will make judicial verification impossible for many polling stations, should the supreme court wish to consult any of the original ballot papers.

But, perhaps even more seriously, the problems encountered during tabulation only added a new layer to the considerable pre-existing obstacles to transparency that were a result of missed deadlines and neglected procedures by the CEI.

Unclear and last-minute changes to the number and location of polling stations and to the official voter lists made it impossible for political parties and observers to verify with confidence that all polling stations were in fact open to scrutiny, or to disprove allegations of fictitious stations.

Unclear and last-minute decisions regarding the location of lists of omitted voters ("listes des omis") were impossible to verify, and were unevenly communicated and applied, a situation that potentially undermined the integrity of important safeguards on voter eligibility. T

he extent of this problem is also difficult to verify, but it cannot be excluded that this presented an opportunity for manipulation.Last-minute changes to the criteria for voting by "derogation" made implementation and monitoring difficult and inconsistent, and may have opened loopholes for potential ineligible voters.

Ineffective communication of procedural decisions made after the beginning of training (despite CEI assurances that such communication was still feasible) resulted in important decisions being applied unequally or not at all (raising the possibility of manipulation, as neither staff nor observers could be sure of correct procedures).

Despite the well-known controversy regarding the number of extra ballots printed, important polling station procedures to inventory and account for all ballot papers were not implemented (and ultimately made moot by severe problems with material collection), suggesting a serious weakness in either the procedure or the training.

Without the ability to verify, observers and party agents lose their principal value in an electoral process - the capacity to provide reassurances to the public and candidates that the process was credible and devoid of manipulation. The fact that many of these problems can be related to the tremendous challenges in administering these elections does not excuse treating them as a lesser priority.

The Center cannot infer from such procedural weaknesses that there has been manipulation, but neither can we prove that there has not. Only because the presidential results are so clear-cut is the DRC spared a potentially heated contestation of the results.

Such controversy may be more difficult to avoid or resolve in the case of close legislative races and these safeguards must be strengthened in advance of what is expected to be a tightly contested second round presidential election.

The majority of CLCR presidents were cooperative in allowing party witnesses and observers to do their work properly. However there were several who failed to understand the crucial role of such monitoring in validating the credibility of their own functions.

Observers and witnesses must of course respect the staff of the CLCR's and not act in a manner that might disrupt the compilation operation, but this should not be used as a pretext to prevent observers from effectively performing their work.

Towards a Climate of Respect
The Global and Inclusive Accord, the December 2005 constitutional referendum, and the July 30 elections, represent important strides for the democratic process in the DRC.

The violence in Kinshasa that broke out on August 20 between factions of the Congolese armed forces loyal to President Joseph Kabila and Vice-President Jean Pierre Bemba reminds us, however, that the electoral process can still be threatened by those who have not committed themselves to respecting the will of the people and refraining from the resort to violence.

The seeds of this violence, resulting in several dozen deaths, lie both in the incomplete integration of combatant groups into a professional national armed force and in the continuing lack of commitment on the part of all political actors to respect the democratic electoral process as the source of political legitimacy. The violent and divisive rhetoric of the campaign period was a visible reminder of these underlying problems, and it contributed to heightening tensions.

Unless urgent steps are taken at the highest political levels, both nationally and internationally, to constrain the actions of armed factions, and to strengthen the conditions for a peaceful and constructive campaign, held in a climate of respect, then there is reason to fear that the run-off election may once again spark serious violence.

The Carter Center acknowledges the important efforts of both MONUC and the International Committee Accompanying the Transition (CIAT) in this direction, and strongly urges the newly formed Joint Commission ("Commission Mixte") to successfully fulfill its mandate.

As the two leading presidential candidates who will face each other in the run-off, both Kabila and Bemba must respect the clear verdict of the people on October 29, from which there will be no turning back, and support the democratic process to its completion.

Overall Assessment and Recommendations
No elections are perfect and the DRC's July 30 elections clearly represent a significant achievement. The important shortcomings observed by the Center make it more difficult for the CEI, observers, and party witnesses to prove that the election process was without significant flaw. As a result, the electoral process remains vulnerable to allegations of manipulation and leaves many questions that cannot be answered.

However, The Carter Center did not see evidence of systematic or widespread attempts to manipulate the results. The results of the presidential election are sufficiently clear-cut that the overall outcome could not realistically be affected by any of the shortcomings we have cited.

While the Center also has general confidence that the published legislative results faithfully reflect the will of Congolese voters, the procedural weaknesses mentioned in this statement make it difficult to confirm specific results, especially in constituencies with close races.

In preparation for the coming elections, The Carter Center believes that several important remedies must be implemented (some of which, we are aware, are already underway):
Duplicate voters should be removed from the voters' lists, not merely placed on separate lists.

Special and omitted voters' lists should be eliminated based on the data gathered during the first round. Final official lists of voters and polling stations should be made public well in advance of election day. Clear decisions should be made about those limited categories of people who can vote by derogation and no exceptions should be made.

A written inventory of ballots papers received should be a mandatory part of opening procedures in the polling stations. Procedures for determining a spoiled ballot should be standardized (taking into account the advice of the supreme court that if the voter's intent is clear the ballot should be counted). Tally sheets should be simplified as much as possible.

Appropriate weatherproof protective packaging for electoral materials should be provided to all voting centers, allowing for clear marking on the outside of each package, and for the separation of the results envelopes from the rest of the electoral materials.

A realistic plan for collection of results, particularly for Kinshasa, should be designed, with provisions for voting officials to accompany and retain custody of their material.

Sealed results must not be opened by anyone other than compilation center staff, in the presence of party witnesses and observers.In the spirit of transparency, election officials should be encouraged to explain each step of the process out loud and make sure witnesses and observers are fully able to watch and understand every step.

In order to be applied effectively, decisions regarding these or other new or changed election procedures must be made far enough in advance to be integrated into training of election officials.

Procedures for the payment and other working conditions of election workers must be practical, effective, and communicated clearly and consistently to all workers ahead of time.

@Congoplanet |

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