YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – Christian observers in the Democratic Republic of Congo have issued a provisional report following Dec. 20 elections in the African nation faulting large-scale irregularities which, they said, could undermine the integrity of the vote.

Both the Catholic church and the Church of Christ observer mission in the DRC deployed some 25,000 people to monitor the elections, the largest such body of independent observers ever utilized in the vast Central African country.

“One candidate stood out from the rest, with more than half of the vote going to him alone,” said Monsignor Donatien Nshole, Secretary General of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo.

Although Nshole did not mention the name of that candidate, local media in the DRC have widely declared the incumbent, Felix Tshisekedi, the winner.

Partial results released by the electoral commission on Thursday gave Tshisekedi 76 percent of the 12.5 million votes counted so far. That would mean the 60-year-old Tshisekedi, who is seeking a second five-year term, obtained 9.5 million votes. He was followed by businessman and former governor of the southeastern state of Katanga, Moïse Katumbi, with 16.5 percent, and Martin Fayulu, with 4.4 percent.

Twenty or so other candidates on the ballot, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Denis Mukwege, failed to gain more than 1 percent.

Nearly 44 million voters, out of a total population of around 100 million, were called to the polls.

In their Thursday report, Nshole said the Church observers “documented numerous cases of irregularities likely to affect the integrity of the results of various polls, in certain places.”

Some 44 million voters in the DRC and the Congolese diaspora were called to the polls to elect a President, 484 members of the National Assembly, 715 members of Provincial Assemblies, and 311 municipal council members.

By law, elections were supposed to take place in just one day, but logistical problems forced the Independent Electoral Commission to extend the vote by about a week. By December 27, voting was still going on in several places.

Nshole questioned the legality and constitutionality of such an extension, and insisted that the election management body provide clear information on what happened to ballots cast beyond the official election day. He also urged the electoral commission to publish provisional results polling station by polling station.

The country’s leading cleric, Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo of Kinshasa, has categorized the elections as a “gigantic, organized mess.”

In his Christmas Day Homily at the Notre-Dame du Congo Cathedral in Kinshasa’s Gombe District, the Archbishop of Kinshasa said: “With enthusiasm and determination, we came out in large numbers to express our democratic preferences.”

“But what should have been a great celebration of democratic values quickly turned into frustration for many,” the cleric said.

“The elections were a gigantic, organized mess. You are all witnesses to this,” the cardinal said, referring in particular to what he called were “unbearable images of a woman being molested because she had voted for the opposition.”

“What image are we giving of our country on the international stage? How can we sink so low?” the prelate wondered.

Amid the frustration, the cardinal urged “caution and restraint.”

“We are awaiting the reports of the various observation missions, in particular that of the joint mission of the Catholic Church and the Protestant Church, which could help us to take the measure of the irregularities observed and to assess their impact on the credibility of these elections,” he said.

Opposition leaders have dismissed the elections as a fraud and pledged not to accept the outcome of the ballot.

“We will never accept this sham of an election and these results,” said opposition leader Martin Fayulu on Wednesday shortly after his post-election protest rally was prevented by the police.

He said the provisional results that largely favor the incumbent was the result of an “organized, planned fraud.”

Interior Minister Peter Kazadi said the protest was banned because it was designed “to undermine the electoral process.”

One of Tshisekedi’s main challengers, Moise Katumbi, has also criticized the government for doing everything in its power to tip the elections in favor of the president, and called for a cancellation of the vote. Other opposition candidates are also calling for a re-run, but the government has turned down all those requests.

There are fears the rising tensions could degenerate into political turmoil in a country already beset by rising insecurity to the east, where dozens of militias have been fighting for control of the region’s mineral wealth.

Kazadi sought to reassure the population, saying Tuesday that the government had taken measures “to ensure that peace reigns.” Another government spokesman vowed that “chaos has not happened and will not happen.”