Kinshasa: DR Congo was on edge on Saturday, just 24 hours ahead of a deadline for announcing preliminary results from last week's crucial presidential election as world powers heaped pressure on Kinshasa to respect voters' wishes. Despite the January 6 deadline, the election commission chief warned earlier this week that publication of the provisional results may well be delayed in a move likely to stoke further tension in this notoriously unstable central African nation. The December 30 vote saw 21 candidates running to replace President Joseph Kabila who has ruled the vast, conflict-ridden country for almost 18 years. At stake is the political stewardship of a mineral-rich country that has never known a peaceful transition of power since independence from Belgium in 1960. Kabila had been due to step down two years ago, but managed to cling onto power, sparking widespread protests which were brutally repressed and leaving dozens dead. Despite repeated delays, the vote went ahead on Sunday, pitting Kabila's handpicked successor Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary against two opposition candidates, veteran heavyweight Felix Tshisekedi and newcomer Martin Fayulu. Although election day itself was relatively peaceful, tensions have mounted over the lengthy counting process, with many fearing the result could be manipulated in Shadary's favour and with any delay likely to further exacerbate the situation. The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) had said it would release preliminary results on January 6, followed by a definitive count on January 15 with the new president to be sworn in three days later. But on Thursday, election chief Corneille Nangaa said that CENI had only collected about a fifth of the results, blaming massive logistical problems in a country the size of Western Europe with very poor infrastructure. Frustrations have been building steadily since the election after the authorities cut internet access and blocked broadcasts by Radio France Internationale. With international concerns growing over the transfer of power in sub-Saharan Africa's largest nation of 80 million people, Western powers have upped pressure on Kinshasa to ensure the vote count is accurate and transparent. "The Democratic Republic of Congo is at a historic moment toward a democratic transition," the European Union said on Friday, urging the authorities "to ensure the upcoming results conform with the Congolese people's vote". Washington has also urged Kinshasa to release "accurate" results and warned of sanctions against anyone seeking to "undermine the democratic process" in the former Belgian colony. The African Union, which deployed an 80-member team to monitor the vote, also said that respect for voters' wishes was "crucial". Although the UN Security Council met late on Friday to discuss the election, it did not issue a concluding statement. It will hold another meeting on the issue on Tuesday. DR Congo's powerful Catholic Church, which deployed more than 40,000 observers to monitor the elections, on Thursday said it knew who had won the vote but did not reveal who it was. CENCO, which represents the country's Catholic bishops and has been at the forefront of protests calling for Kabila to step down, urged the electoral commission to publish the results "in keeping with truth and justice". But the ruling coalition, the FCC, angrily rebuffed the church's statement, accusing CENCO of "seriously breaching" the constitution and electoral law by "illegally declaring voting trends" in favour of a given candidate. The last two elections in 2006 and 2011, both of which were won by Kabila, were marred by bloodshed, and many fear a repeat of the violence if the results are put in doubt. In 2006, Kabila defeated former warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba in a violence-tainted poll, and five years later, he was re-elected in another vote blighted by bloodshed, chaotic organisation and alleged irregularities. The results were rejected by the opposition. Between 1996 and 2003, DR Congo lived through two fully-fledged wars that claimed millions of lives through bloodshed, fighting, starvation and disease.