Congo: Opposition leader Tshisekedi wins presidential vote

Felix Tshisekedi, leader of the Congolese main opposition party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), and a presidential candidate, leaves after casting his ballot at a polling station in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, December 30, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 10 January 2019
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Congo: Opposition leader Tshisekedi wins presidential vote

  • Some Congolese weary of Kabila’s long rule, two turbulent years of election delays and years of conflict that killed millions of people said they simply wanted peace

KINSHASA, Congo: Congo opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi has won the presidential election, the electoral commission announced early Thursday, as the vast country braced for possible protests over alleged rigging.
Tshisekedi, who received more than 7 million votes or 38 percent, had not been widely considered the leading candidate. Some observers have suggested that President Joseph Kabila’s government sought to make a deal as hopes faded for a win for ruling party candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary. Shadary received more than 4 million votes or 23 percent.
It is not immediately clear whether opposition candidate Martin Fayulu, who led in polling and warned against manipulation, will contest the results. The constitutional court has 14 days to validate them. Fayulu received more than 6 million votes or 38 percent.
Tshisekedi, son of late opposition icon Etienne yet relatively unknown, has achieved what his father pursued for decades.
The delayed results come after international pressure to announce an outcome that reflected the will of the people. The United States threatened sanctions against officials who rigged the vote. Election observers had reported numerous irregularities.
Kabila has ruled since 2001 in the troubled nation rich in the minerals key to smartphones around the world. This could be Congo’s first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since independence in 1960.
Observers before dawn waited to see how Congolese would respond, especially after Fayulu this week warned that the results were “not negotiable” amid speculation of a possible deal. Kabila has amassed vast wealth and is expected to protect it. Fayulu has pledged to clean up the country’s widespread corruption.
Activist groups on Wednesday urged people to “be ready to massively take to the streets” if results didn’t match “the truth of the ballot boxes.”
Attention turns to Congo’s powerful Catholic church, which has said its 40,000 election observers at all polling stations found a “clear winner” but was barred by electoral regulations from saying more.
If the church found Fayulu won, “how will population react?” Stephanie Wolters, analyst with the Institute for Security Studies, posted on Twitter ahead of the announcement. She added, will the African Union “consider a power transfer ‘enough’ or will they push for investigation and real result?“
The largely peaceful election was marred by the malfunctioning of many voting machines that Congo used for the first time. Dozens of polling centers opened hours late as materials went missing. And in a last-minute decision, some 1 million of the country’s 40 million voters were barred from participating, with the electoral commission blaming a deadly Ebola virus outbreak.
Defiantly, tens of thousands of voters in one of the barred communities held their own ballot on election day. Fayulu won easily.
Congo’s government cut Internet service the day after the vote to prevent speculation on social media. As the electoral commission met this week, anti-riot police moved into place outside.
Some Congolese weary of Kabila’s long rule, two turbulent years of election delays and years of conflict that killed millions of people said they simply wanted peace. “As long as Fayulu or Tshisekedi wins, it will be fine,” some said, recalling the violence that followed past disputed elections.
Many Congolese objected to Kabila’s preferred successor, Shadary, suspecting that Kabila would continue to rule from behind the scenes.
Now Congo faces a new leader who is little known after spending many years in Belgium and living in the shadow of his outspoken father.
On Wednesday afternoon, hours before results were announced, some Tshisekedi supporters began to celebrate at his Union for Democracy and Social Progress party headquarters, with calendars already printed saying “Felix Tshisekedi president.”
The 56-year-old Tshisekedi took over as head of Congo’s most prominent opposition party in early 2018, a year after his father’s death. He briefly joined other opposition leaders in a coalition backing Fayulu late last year but left to join forces with the party backing Vital Kamerhe, who finished third in the 2011 election.
Some Congolese have said Tshisekedi lost support by splitting the opposition. He was less visible in campaigning than Fayulu and did not make himself available to reporters after the vote. As he cast his ballot, he accused Congo’s government of deliberately creating a mess to spark a court challenge that could allow Kabila to extend his time in power.
“I deplore all the disorder,” Tshisekedi said.


Trump’s attorney general nominee: ‘I will not be bullied’

“I believe the Russians interfered or attempted to interfere with the election, and I think we have to get to the bottom of it,” Barr said. (Reuters)
Updated 3 min 40 sec ago
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Trump’s attorney general nominee: ‘I will not be bullied’

  • Though Barr said an attorney general should work in concert with an administration’s policy goals, he broke from some Trump talking points
  • “I will not be bullied into doing anything that I think is wrong by anybody, whether it be editorial boards or Congress or the president,” Barr told the hearing.

WASHINGTON: Vowing “I will not be bullied,” President Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general asserted independence from the White House on Tuesday, saying he believed that Russia had tried to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, that the special counsel investigation shadowing Trump is not a witch hunt and that his predecessor was right to recuse himself from the probe.
The comments by William Barr at his Senate confirmation hearing pointedly departed from Trump’s own views and underscored Barr’s efforts to reassure Democrats that he will not be a loyalist to a president who has appeared to demand it from law enforcement. He also repeatedly sought to assuage concerns that he might disturb or upend special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation as it reaches its final stages.
Some Democrats are concerned about that very possibility, citing a memo Barr wrote to the Justice Department before his nomination in which he criticized Mueller’s investigation for the way it was presumably looking into whether Trump had obstructed justice.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told Barr the memo showed “a determined effort, I thought, to undermine Bob Mueller.” The nominee told senators he was merely trying to advised Justice Department officials against “stretching the statute beyond what was intended” to conclude that the president had obstructed justice.
Though Barr said an attorney general should work in concert with an administration’s policy goals, he broke from some Trump talking points, including the mantra that the Russia probe is a witch hunt, and said he frowned on “Lock Her Up” calls for Hillary Clinton. Trump has equivocated on Russian meddling in the 2016 election and assailed and pushed out his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for recusing because of his work with the Trump campaign.
Barr stated without hesitation that it was in the public interest for Mueller to finish his investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin to sway the presidential election. He said he would resist any order by Trump to fire Mueller without cause and called it “unimaginable” that Mueller would do anything to require his termination.
“I believe the Russians interfered or attempted to interfere with the election, and I think we have to get to the bottom of it,” Barr said during the nine-hour hearing.
He said that, at 68 and partially retired, he felt emboldened to “do the right thing and not really care about the consequences.” If a president directs an attorney general to do something illegal, he said, an attorney general must resign.
“I will not be bullied into doing anything that I think is wrong by anybody, whether it be editorial boards or Congress or the president,” Barr told the hearing.
Consumed by the partial government shutdown, Trump remained out of sight at the White House but also kept an eye on the news coverage of the hearing and told aides he was pleased with how Barr was handling himself, said two White House officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal conversations.
On other topics, Barr echoed in part the president’s hard-line immigration stance and said the Justice Department would not go after marijuana companies in states where the drug is legal. He also would not rule out jailing reporters for doing their jobs, saying he could envision circumstances where a journalist could be held in contempt “as a last resort.”
Barr’s hearing continues Wednesday with a lineup of character witnesses, including former Attorney General Michael Mukasey.
Barr’s confirmation is likely, given that Republicans control the Senate. Even some Democrats have been looking to move on from acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who declined to remove himself the Russia probe and has faced scrutiny over his private dealings.
But he nonetheless faced skeptical questions from Democrats over whether he could oversee without bias or interference the remainder of Mueller’s probe.
Feinstein said the nominee’s past rhetoric in support of expansive presidential powers “raises a number of serious questions about your views on executive authority and whether the president is, in fact, above the law.” Under questioning, Barr voiced a more moderate view, saying a president who ordered an attorney general to halt an investigation would clearly be committing an “abuse of power” if not necessarily a crime.
Barr said under questioning from Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, that he wouldn’t interfere with a Mueller request to subpoena Trump for his testimony “if there was a factual basis.” But he also said he saw no reason to change Justice Department legal opinions that have held that a sitting president cannot be indicted.
Barr called Mueller a friend of 30 years and said “it is vitally important” that Mueller be allowed to complete his investigation.
“I don’t believe Mr. Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt,” he said when asked by the panel’s Republican chairman, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
The special counsel is required to report his findings confidentially to the Justice Department. Barr said he expected to produce his own report to Congress and said it was his goal to release as much information as possible to the public, though he stopped short of a direct pledge. He also noted the Justice Department does not typically disclose information about people it investigates but does not prosecute.
He also disclosed having discussed Mueller with Trump during a meeting in 2017 when Barr declined to join his legal team. He said he and his wife had been “sort of looking forward to a bit of respite and I didn’t want to stick my head into that meat grinder.”
Trump wanted to know what Mueller, who worked for Barr when he led the Justice Department between 1991 and 1993, was like.
“He was interested in that, wanted to know what I thought about Mueller’s integrity and so forth and so on,” Barr said. “I said Bob is a straight shooter and should be dealt with as such.”
He also defended his decision to send an unsolicited memo to the Justice Department in which he criticized as “fatally misconceived” the theory of obstruction that Mueller appeared to be pursuing with regard to Trump, including the special counsel’s investigation into president’s firing of former FBI director James Comey.
He said he raised his concerns at a lunch with the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller and has overseen his work. Rosenstein didn’t respond and was “sphinx-like,” Barr recalled. He followed up with the memo in June.
Barr also sent the document to White House lawyers and discussed it with Trump’s personal attorneys and a lawyer representing Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, among others.
Barr said the memo was narrowly focused on a single theory of obstruction that media reports suggested Mueller might be considering.
He said he would consult with ethics officials on whether he would need to recuse because of the memo but the decision would be ultimately his.