The Catholic Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo is challenging the official results of last month's presidential election, saying they do not match the vote tallies collected by the church's election monitors.
The country's election board, CENI, announced that opposition candidate Felix Tshisekedi won the election with just over 38 percent of the vote. The results were a surprise after pre-election surveys projected that another opposition candidate, Martin Fayulu, would prevail.
The body representing Congo's Catholic bishops said Thursday that the results as published by CENI "do not correspond to the data collected by our observation mission from polling stations and vote counts."
The church, which has become active in Congolese politics, deployed 40,000 observers around the country to monitor the December 30 election and subsequent vote count.
Earlier, Fayulu rejected the official results and accused the board of carrying out an "electoral coup." He called on the Catholic Church to release the results of its independent vote tallying.
Several diplomats have told news outlets that the votes counted by the church's observation teams show Fayulu as the winner.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also cast doubt on the results, telling France's CNews channel Thursday that the official results were at odds with the actual count.
The official results are fueling speculation that outgoing President Joseph Kabila made a deal with Tshisekedi to declare him the winner.
Fayulu finished second in the official results with 34 percent of the vote. Ruling party candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, who was backed by Kabila, finished a distant third.
The election in the DRC had been over two years in the making. Postponed twice by the ruling coalition, the Common Front for the Congo, problems persisted even after a date was set. Nevertheless, the elections finally went ahead in late December.
Fayulu and ruling party candidate Shadary can contest the results before the country's constitutional court, which has 10 days to hear and rule on any challenges.
Kabila is due to leave office this month after 18 years in power - and two years after the official end of his mandate.
The Democratic Republic of Congo suffers from widespread corruption, continuing conflict, endemic disease, and some of the world’s highest levels of sexual violence and malnutrition. It is also rich in minerals, including those crucial to the world’s smartphones and electric cars.
Since independence in 1960, the DRC has never experienced a peaceful transfer of power. Kabila took power after the assassination of his father Laurent Kabila in 2001.