ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
We go now to Congo, where provisional election results have handed the presidency to an opposition leader for the very first time. Another opposition frontrunner has rejected the outcome. And as NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports from Kinshasa, Congo's powerful Catholic Church immediately disputed the results.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: It's important to note how well respected the Roman Catholic Church is in Congo, Africa's leading Catholic country. So when bishops raise a red flag, people listen. And today's statement was highly anticipated. Last week, the bishops announced that the 40,000 observers they deployed for the December 30 vote indicated a clear winner, though they did not name that person. They urged Congo's election commission to ensure that its results were true and reflected the will of the voters.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
DONATIEN NSHOLE: (Speaking French).
QUIST-ARCTON: On Tuesday, spokesman for the Catholic Bishops' Conference, Reverend Donatien Nshole, said that did not happen. He said the electoral commission's declaration of opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi as the provisional winner of the presidential vote did not tally with the church's own results.
QUIST-ARCTON: His remarks prompted spontaneous applause among the Congolese journalists at the media briefing. But Reverend Nshole declined to name the candidate they'd identified as the winner of the vote. He appealed to all Congolese to demonstrate civic maturity and, above all, refrain from resorting to violence.
Many in and outside Congo are concerned that continued uncertainty could trigger deadly violence, as happened after the 2006 and 2011 elections. This time, the Electoral Commission said Tshisekedi barely beat businessman and another opposition candidate, Martin Fayulu. Fayulu is disputing what he says are rigged results and has 10 days to launch a legal challenge.
DENDE ESAKANU: Martin Fayulu will give our position.
QUIST-ARCTON: Dende Esakanu is a spokesman for the camp. It claims Tshisekedi made an 11th-hour deal with outgoing President Joseph Kabila because Tshisekedi is deemed the least-threatening option, since the president's preferred successor came a distant third in the election. Esakanu repeats confidently that Fayulu is the true winner.
ESAKANU: Martin Fayulu - it's not just for Kinshasa, it's good for all Congo. OK?
QUIST-ARCTON: It should be a busy Thursday evening here in Kinshasa, but there's barely anybody around. People have stayed home today. They're nervous. They're uncertain because of these election results.
Madame, what's your name, please?
ORHLY MWAYI: My name is Orhly, Orhly Mwayi.
QUIST-ARCTON: Kinshasa is very quiet. Are people fearful?
MWAYI: There's a little fear about the results. Many people was thinking that today would be violent, but it's OK. It's OK.
QUIST-ARCTON: Mwayi she says she voted for opposition frontrunner Fayulu, but if Tshisekedi has won, that's fine too because she says either one represents an alternative for Congo after 18 years of Kabila.
MWAYI: Because people don't want to continue with the same government. They want a change.
QUIST-ARCTON: No major violence was reported by nightfall. And if Mwayi's feelings are widespread, it could mean the Congolese choose stability over electoral uncertainty and witness their nation's first-ever peaceful and democratic transfer of power. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Kinshasa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.