Congo’s Constitutional Court early Sunday declared the election of Felix Tshisekedi as president, rejecting challenges to the vote by runner-up Martin Fayulu, who had alleged fraud.
Tshisekedi, son of the late, charismatic opposition leader Etienne, is now set to be inaugurated on Tuesday.
The declaration came shortly after the African Union in an unprecedented move asked Congo to delay announcing the final election results, citing “serious doubts” about the vote. It planned to send a high-level delegation on Monday to find a way out of the crisis, fearing unrest spilling across borders of the vast Central African nation.
The court turned away Fayulu’s request for a recount in the Dec. 30 vote. He had accused Congo’s electoral commission of announcing results dramatically different from ones posted at polling stations around the country. Leaked data attributed to the commission shows that Fayulu easily won.
But the court said Fayulu did not put forward proof to back his claims.
Outside court, Fayulu’s supporters have alleged that outgoing President Joseph Kabila made a backroom deal with the largely untested Tshisekedi once it became clear that the ruling party’s candidate did poorly in the election. Neither party has acknowledged the accusations.
Congo, rich in the minerals key to smartphones around the world, is moving close to achieving its first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since independence in 1960.
But observers have warned that the court’s upholding of the official results could lead to further unrest. At least 34 people have been killed since provisional results were released on Jan. 10, the United Nations has said.
There was no immediate reaction early Sunday from Tshisekedi, who has said little publicly since the election, or Fayulu. Many people in the courtroom erupted in cheers after the declaration, along with Tshisekedi supporters who had gathered outside.
The court could have ordered a recount or ordered a new election.
It called unfounded a challenge filed by another candidate, Theodore Ngoy, that objected to the electoral commission’s last-minute decision to bar some 1 million voters from the election over a deadly Ebola virus outbreak.
The court said Tshisekedi won with more than 7 million votes, or 38 percent, and Fayulu received 34 percent. However, leaked data published by some media outlets, attributed to the electoral commission and representing 86 percent of the votes, show that Fayulu won 59 percent while Tshisekedi received 19 percent.
Ahead of the court’s decision, both Congo’s government and Tshisekedi’s party dismissed the AU’s request to delay the final results.
Congo’s government called it a matter for the court. Tshisekedi’s party rejected the request outright.
The continental body’s stance is “the work of some mining lobbies seeking to destabilize the Democratic Republic of Congo in order to perpetuate the looting of this country,” the secretary-general of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress party, Jean-Marc Kabund, said in a statement.
He called on the Congolese people to mobilize and defend the mineral-rich country’s sovereignty.
Ahead of the ruling, hundreds of Tshisekedi’s supporters were in the streets of the capital, Kinshasa, waving tree branches and banners reading “Congo for the Congolese.”
Associated Press writer Carley Petesch in Dakar, Senegal contributed.