The Miracle Opinion Poll and the 2018 DRC Presidential Elections

January 16, 2019

A false narrative has been carefully crafted that Martin Fayulu should have won the presidential elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) because he was the leading candidate in the opinion polls prior to the elections. And that Felix Tshisekedi is the surprised winner because he was not expected to win based on the same polls that favored Martin Fayulu.

This narrative is outright dishonest. The truth is the precise opposite of the narrative being peddled to the public. So, let’s examine the facts.

Until December 29, 2018, just one day before the DRC presidential elections, Martin Fayulu had never been above 8% in any opinion poll conducted over the last two years in the Democratic Republic of Congo. And he represents a political party, the Engagement for Citizenship and Development party, that has only one representative in the legislature: Martin Fayulu himself. His party has no political infrastructure in the DRC.

On December 29th, just one day before the elections, an opinion poll appeared that catapulted Martin Fayulu from 8% to 47%. That is the only opinion poll that ever put Martin Fayulu above 8%. It’s the “miracle” opinion poll!

Until December 29th, Felix Tshisekedi had consistently led in every opinion poll in 2018. In addition, he is the leader of the largest opposition party in the DRC, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), a party with vast political infrastructure across the country.

Felix Tshisekedi’s father, the late Etienne Tshisekedi, was the doyen of opposition politics in the DRC, opposing every dictator that ever ruled Congo. When he suddenly passed away in Belgium two years ago, where he had gone for a brief medical checkup, President Joseph Kabila refused to allow his remains to be returned to Congo. To this day, the remains of Congo’s most beloved opposition leader remains in a morgue in Belgium.

As a young lawyer, Etienne Tshisekedi was an adviser to the legendary Congolese leader and first Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. While growing up, Felix Tshisekedi lived in an enforced internal exile in Congo during the reign of Mobutu Sese Seko. It was a very difficult time for the Tshisekedi family. Through it all, however, they never compromised their political principles or their dogged commitment to democracy in Congo. In fact, Felix Tshisekedi is one of only a handful of the major political figures in the DRC who has never worked with Kabila. And no one has ever publicly questioned his integrity or his commitment to democracy and fair play.

The sin of Felix Tshisekedi, at least in the eyes of his political detractors, lies in his consistent and public refusal to boycott the 2018 elections. He said it would be a grave mistake to boycott the elections having fought so hard and having waited for so long to have it. To Tshisekedi, the elections would mark the moment of liberation for Congo.

On this, he and Martin Fayulu stood on opposite sides. Martin Fayulu campaigned vigorously that the elections must be boycotted if voting machines were used. He called them “the cheating machines.” Tshisekedi and his party, the UDPS, transparently maintained that they would participate in the elections with or without the voting machines.

At a key opposition meeting in Geneva in November 2018, where opposition leaders gathered to choose a sole opposition candidate, Felix Tshisekedi was the prohibitive favorite. Everyone around the world expected him to emerge as the sole opposition leader. At that time, Martin Fayulu was not known internationally or domestically outside Kinshasa, where he was a well-known political activist.

To everyone’s great surprise, Martin Fayulu was selected in Geneva over Felix Tshisekedi. When the news broke in the DRC, there were spontaneous riots across the country. Even though Tshisekedi had graciously accepted his colleagues’ surprise verdict in Geneva, his political base in Congo revolted and demanded that he withdraw from the Geneva Accord. Tshisekedi withdrew from the Geneva Accord and on November 23rd formed a political alliance in Nairobi, Kenya (the “Nairobi Accord”) with Vital Kamerhe, the second most popular opposition presidential candidate and leader of the Union for the Congolese Nation. When the joint team of Felix Tshisekedi and Vital Kamerhe returned to Kinshasa on December 15, 2018 to launch their campaign, they were welcomed by over a million people – a scene replayed across the country throughout the presidential campaign. One ecstatic scene after another of thousands upon thousands of citizens welcoming the Tshisekedi-Kamerhe ticket.

But in Geneva on November 10th, at issue was the question of the voting machines. Had Tshisekedi agreed to boycott the elections if the voting machines were used, he would have emerged in Geneva as the sole opposition leader. But he refused on principle to make such a compromise, knowing full well that he would have to dishonor it or be forced to boycott the elections.

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