Congolese election officials, rejecting independent assessments that a prominent opposition figure was the runaway winner of the recent presidential election, on Thursday bestowed victory on a candidate considered more acceptable to the departing President Joseph Kabila.

The decision dashed hopes that the country might experience its first undisputed transfer of power by the ballot box since independence six decades ago. And it was unclear how it would sit with the population.

Still, however malleable the declared winner, Felix Tshisekedi, may seem to Mr. Kabila, he was not his first choice. Mr. Kabila had backed a top aide to succeed him.

The election commission’s early-morning announcement amounted to a startling admission by the government that Mr. Kabila’s candidate had suffered a defeat so big that his government — in power for 18 years — could not simply hand him the presidency without risking widespread violence and international condemnation.

The opposition coalition of Mr. Tshisekedi, Cap pour le Changement, is in a weak position, Ms. Van Houtte said. On its own, she said, it would not have won the election. And Mr. Fayulu’s campaign, she said, seemed “to have numbers backing its victory and the key — unofficial though — support of the Catholic Church and the international community.”

For Mr. Kabila, Ms. Van Houtte said, a Tshisekedi presidency “would be easier to manage than a Fayulu presidency,” which would be “worst case scenario” for his ruling coalition.

Mr. Fayulu “has no intention of protecting Kabila’s regime,” Ms. Van Houtte said, adding that he has been leading anti-government protests and is considered an “extremist” by the regime.

Mr. Fayulu had said he would not seek revenge on Kabila officials if he won. But, Ms. Van Houtte said, he was expected “to crack down on the pervasive networks of corruption that is at play in the country, something Kabila, his entourage and the country’s elite are probably fearful of.”

The Express News

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