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story.lead_photo.caption Supporters of opposition presidential candidate Felix Tshisekedi party outside his headquarters as they wait for election results to be released in Kinshasa, Congo, Wednesday Jan. 9, 2019. As Congo anxiously awaits the outcome of the presidential election, many in the capital say they are convinced that the opposition won and that the delay in announcing results is allowing manipulation in favor of the ruling party. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

KINSHASA, Congo -- Congo opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi has won the long-delayed presidential election, the electoral commission announced early today, as the vast country faced possible protests over alleged rigging.

Tshisekedi, who received more than 7 million votes, or 38 percent, had not been widely considered the leading candidate and is relatively untested. The son of late opposition leader Etienne, who pursued the presidency for many years, he surprised many last year by breaking away from an opposition effort to unite behind a single 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, who received more than 4 million votes, or 23 percent.

It is not immediately clear whether opposition candidate Martin Fayulu, who had vowed to clean up Congo's widespread corruption and led in polling, will contest the results. The constitutional court has 14 days to validate them. Fayulu received more than 6 million votes, or 34 percent.

This is Congo's first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since independence in 1960. Kabila has ruled since 2001 in the troubled nation rich in the minerals key to smartphones around the world and has amassed vast wealth. He is barred from serving three consecutive terms, but during more than two years of election delays many Congolese feared he'd find a way to stay in office.

"This is the coronation of a lifetime," the deputy secretary-general of Tshisekedi's party, Rubens Mikindo, said above the cheers at party headquarters. "This is the beginning of national reconciliation."

Scores of people in the capital, Kinshasa, danced after the election results were announced long after midnight, but observers waited to see how other Congolese would respond, especially after Fayulu this week warned that the results were "not negotiable."

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."

The delayed results come after international pressure to announce an outcome that reflected the will of the people.

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 disappeared. 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 outbreak.

Congo's government cut Internet service the day after the vote to prevent speculation on social media. As the electoral commission met this week, 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. Some said they would be happy as long as Fayulu or Tshisekedi won, while recalling the violence that followed past disputed elections.

Many Congolese objected to Shadary, suspecting that Kabila would continue to rule from behind the scenes.

Information for this article was contributed by Saleh Mwanamilongo of The Associated Press.

A Section on 01/10/2019

Print Headline: Opposition's Tshisekedi wins Congo election

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