The presidential election in the Democratic Republic of Congo has produced a surprise winner: Felix Tshisekedi, an Opposition leader. Former businessman Martin Fayulu, who had led opinion polls ahead of the December 30 election, has rejected the result, calling it an “electoral coup, Reuters reported. Independent observers also consider Fayulu the real winner.

The swearing-in of the new president is scheduled for January 18.

The government candidate, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, hand-picked by outgoing President Joseph Kabila to succeed him, finished third in the race. Kabila exits office after 18 years in power.

The New York Times had reported on Wednesday night that word had spread that the electoral commission would hand the victory to the candidate considered more acceptable to Kabila, rather than the prominent Opposition voice.

Riot police had been deployed in Kinshasa, where the election commission’s headquarters is located, amid fears that the disputed result could spark violence. The election was expected to lead to the first democratic transfer of power, 59 years after the country won independence from Belgium in 1960. This was the third election held after a bloody civil war ended in 2002.

Independent observers, as well as Belgium and France, consider Fayulu to be the winner of the election based on data tallied by the National Episcopal Conference of Congo, a Catholic bishops’ group considered a credible institution in the country. The Roman Catholic organisation had deployed 40,000 observers to polling booths across the country.