By Giulia Paravicini
KINSHASA (Reuters) - Preliminary results from Democratic Republic of Congo's tumultuous presidential election will be delayed past Sunday's deadline, the head of the election commission told Reuters.
The commission, known as CENI, had received only 47 percent of vote tally sheets as of Saturday, said its president, Corneille Nangaa, and it was not yet clear when the results would be ready.
The delay is the latest setback in a disorganised poll to pick a successor to President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled the country of 80 million people since his father was assassinated in 2001.
The Dec. 30 vote could mark Congo's first democratic transition of power since independence from Belgium in 1960. But tensions rose after observers reported a litany of irregularities that the opposition says are part of the ruling party's effort to steal the election.
The opposition, represented by its two main candidates Martin Fayulu and Felix Tshisekedi, and the ruling coalition all say their candidates have won.
"It will not be possible to announce the results tomorrow," Nangaa said.
A CENI spokesman later said that the commission was holding a meeting on Sunday to decide when they will be announced.
Worried that disputes and delays could spark the kind of violence seen after the 2006 and 2011 elections, the United Nations Security Council met on Friday to discuss how to react, but was unable to reach an agreement, according to an internal report seen by Reuters.
The United States condemned a lack of transparency in the contest, while China, a major investor, lauded the process.
"Tensions were mounting while the CENI tabulated the results, notably in light of posturing by parties and candidates," Leila Zerrougui, head of the UN Stabilization Mission in Democratic Republic of Congo, told the meeting, according to the internal report.
But the 15 council members "differed in their appreciation of the problems that beset the process and were divided over the question of whether the Council should issue a press statement", the report went on to say.
A negative international reaction could be problematic for Kabila, whose government has defended the election's organisation, and could weaken the legitimacy of Kabila's hand-picked successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, should he be declared winner.
INFLAME THE SITUATION
In the meeting, France pushed for the publication of a statement that recognised that Congo's election had allowed people to exercise their democratic right and called for calm, but criticised the government's decision to cut access to the Internet and some media outlets.
The United States, which has threatened to impose sanctions against those who undermine the election process and has deployed troops to Gabon in case its citizens need rescuing from any violence, backed the statement, alongside Britain, Ivory Coast, Belgium and others.
South Africa, long a Kabila ally, said the statement could "inflame" the situation if issued before the results, the report said. Russia said it could be seen as an attempt to skew public opinion. China "lauded the manner in which elections were conducted", the report said, and said a statement should not be published before the results.
Congo's Catholic church body, CENCO, said this week that it had identified the victor based on its own tallies collected by 40,000 observers, though it did not name the winner. The declaration was widely seen as a warning to authorities against rigging the vote.
(Additional reporting By Aaron Ross; Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Kevin Liffey)