LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
On November 28th, elections were held in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They were only the second democratic polls in the nation's turbulent half-century of independence, and even before voters went to the polls there were signs that all was not well.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Violence marred the run-up to the actual voting day, so polling was extended in some areas up to three days. Opposition candidates said the election itself was tainted.
WERTHEIMER: Today, there's palpable tension in the country. That's because the official results of last week's disputed presidential election are expected to be announced. With two-thirds of the votes counted, the incumbent president remains in the lead with just under 50 percent.
INSKEEP: But the opposition is already challenging those numbers and crying fraud. From the capital city Kinshasa, NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton has more.
(SOUNDBITE OF STREET NOISE)
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Normally bustling downtown Kinshasa is quietish, like a sleepy Sunday on what should be a normal working Tuesday. Nervous Congolese have stocked up on food and other essentials and say they're staying at home until the presidential election results were out. Hundreds of others who can afford to have gathered their bags and crossed the Congo River heading to Brazzaville in neighboring Republic of Congo, the other side of the riverbank.
The fear is that the outcome of the election may trigger violence. Kikaya bin Karubi is with the presidential party.
KIKAYA BIN KARUBI: Kinshasa is very tense, I agree. But if the people, the so-called opposition leaders whose followers are promising chaos from the announcement of the result of the presidential election, if they were real Democrats, they would appeal for calm.
QUIST-ARCTON: Congo is a mineral-rich giant which has struggled with back-to-back rebellions and conflict after decades under a kleptocratic dictatorship. Kikaya warns that any unrest will be firmly dealt with.
KARUBI: I appeal to the people of Kinshasa not to do anything that would make soldiers or policemen nervous, and do something that we'll all regret later. If chaos comes to an extent that the police is overwhelmed, I think the authorities will deploy the army. Why not?
QUIST-ARCTON: Cell phone text messaging has been blocked, the authorities say to prevent incitement to violence, and Kinshasa is not rife with rumors and political spin. But the Congolese which failed to unite behind one candidate before the November 28th presidential vote now appears to be speaking with one voice. Opposition leaders claim the vote has been rigged and that the election commissions drip-drip manner of releasing partial results is flawed.
Presidential candidate Vital Kamerhe, a one-time minister and ally of President Joseph Kabila, is currently placing third in the vote count behind Kabila and his main opposition challenger, Etienne Tshisekedi. Kamerhe says there's been cheating.
VITAL KAMERHE: Tshisekedi win and she going to become the new (Unintelligible) of our country, and we must accept her regime.
QUIST-ARCTON: The opposition is calling for top level African mediators to come to Congo to avoid the sort of deadly post-election crisis witnessed in recent years in other parts of the continent. Again, Vital Kamerhe:
KAMERHE: We turn to Africans and to Congolese to (unintelligible) African mediation because we know the experience with Kenya (unintelligible) and in Zimbabwe. Congolese is a big country and (unintelligible) we must keep the peace in Congo and make this our problem today.
QUIST-ARCTON: But Kikaya bin Karubi, representing the president's party, says there's no need for outside intervention right now.
KARUBI: We haven't reached a level of calling the situation in Congo a conflict. For us to call heavyweight like ask Archbishop Desmond Tutu to come and mediate. You mediate when there is a conflict and people - but you don't agree. For the time being there is no conflict.
QUIST-ARCTON: Even the influential Catholic Church is worried. Over the weekend, the Bishop's Conference issued a statement urging Congo's electoral commission to be sure to publish results that reflect the will of Congolese voters, i.e., the truth, warning that any violence will mean the destruction of their country. Bishop Nicolas Djomo compared Congo to a high-speed train racing headlong into a brick wall.
BISHOP NICOLAS DJOMO: (Foreign language spoken)
QUIST-ARCTON: The bishop says no one seems to be in a position to hit the brakes as the train heads straight for the wall. Most Congolese hope that a sometimes violent run-up to the elections with some deaths reported and a tense waiting period for what may be contested results will not translate into a broader conflict. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Kinshasa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.