DR Congo opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi

Congo opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi has won the long-delayed and tightly contested presidential election, the electoral commission announced early on Thursday.

Provisional results put him ahead of another opposition candidate, Martin Fayulu, and the ruling coalition’s Emmanuel Shadary.

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If confirmed, Tshisekedi will be the first opposition challenger to win since DR Congo gained independence.

Current President Joseph Kabila is stepping down after 18 years in office.

He had promised DR Congo’s first orderly transfer of power since the country’s independence from Belgium in 1960.

The election outcome was initially expected to be announced on Sunday. The interim result can still be challenged.

In the early hours of Thursday the head of DR Congo’s National Electoral Commission (Ceni), Corneille Nangaa said Tshisekedi had received 38.5% of the vote and had been “provisionally declared the elected president”.

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.

Tshisekedi, who is the son of late veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, told supporters at his Union for Democracy and Social Progress party headquarters in Kinshasa that Kabila should no longer be seen as a rival.

“I pay tribute to President Joseph Kabila and today we should no longer see him as an adversary, but rather, a partner in democratic change in our country,” he said.

Tshisekedi has promised to make the fight against poverty his priority.

Fayulu, a former oil tycoon, dismissed the results as having “nothing to do with the truth”.

“The Congolese people will never accept such a fraud. Felix Tshisekedi never got 7 million votes. Where did he get them from?” he queried.