Ten days after Congolese voters cast their ballots in their oft-delayed presidential election, the oft-delayed results were at last going to be announced late Wednesday night in Kinshasa, the capital.
Riot police officers were deployed, citizens waited anxiously, the hour appointed by the electoral commission — 11 p.m. — came and went. But not a word was heard.
It appeared there was yet another delay. Early Thursday morning, hours after the scheduled announcement, election officials began announcing the winners of hundreds of provincial deputy seats, but not the presidential race.
What it all meant in a country whose longtime leader did all he could to extend his grip on power before finally agreeing to step down was anyone’s guess.
In the hours before the voting results were to be announced, word had spread that the Democratic Republic of Congo’s electoral commission, snubbing a prominent opposition figure regarded as the winner, would bestow victory on a candidate considered more acceptable to the departing President Joseph Kabila.
Such a decision would dash 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 — thus the riot police, and warnings from the United States Embassy for Americans to leave the country.
It was not the first time the Dec. 30 election results were delayed. Government officials claimed it was taking longer than expected to count the ballots, but that explanation has been roundly dismissed.
Mr. Kabila had made clear that he wanted to be succeeded by a top official in his government, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary. But the electoral commission was reported close to giving the victory to an opposition candidate, Felix Tshisekedi.
That would amount to a startling admission by the government that Mr. Kabila’s candidate had suffered a defeat so big that his government could not simply hand him the presidency without risking widespread violence and international condemnation.
Still, whatever qualms Mr. Kabila may have about Mr. Tshisekedi, the government is said to view him as far more malleable than the man many say was the clear winner of the election, Martin Fayulu.
Outside observers and institutions pointed to voting data compiled by the Roman Catholic Church, one of the few trusted institutions in Congo, showing Mr. Fayulu to be well ahead. The National Episcopal Conference of Congo, a Catholic bishops group, sent 40,000 observers to voting stations across the country.
On Wednesday, as the Congolese awaited an announcement about their next leader, a Washington-based advocacy group that focuses on Africa, the Enough Project, issued a warning. “Civil society, church, and opposition leaders express serious concern that the electoral commission will announce a fraudulent result,” the group said in a statement.