DRC – 21 candidates for one seat

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the election commission (CENI) has released the final candidate list for the December 23 presidential election. The list has 21 names: three political heavyweights and 18 candidates with few chances to win, particularly as the election is held in one round. Most striking fact? Incumbent President Joseph Kabila is not on it, meaning that for the first time the DRC will see a transfer of presidential power through an election.

Representing the ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) will be former Vice Prime Minister for the Interior Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, current permanent secretary for the PPRD and a close Kabila-ally. The nomination of Shadary put an end to speculations about whether Kabila would find a way to circumvent constitutional term-limits and stand for reelection for a third term [see previous post musing over who would run in the presidential poll here].

Shadary was a founding member of the PPRD and has risen through the ranks of the party: he was Kabila’s campaign chairman in 2006 and 2011; was elected deputy to the National Assembly; served on the Law Committee (PAJ); chaired the PPRD caucus; and was the coordinator for the ruling majority in the National Assembly. During his time as Minister of Interior from 2016 till February of this year, he oversaw a crackdown on protests in the wake of the de facto extension of Kabila’s term by two years. Dozens of protesters were killed and Shadary was placed on the EU sanctions list for violations of human rights.

There is speculation that with the selection of Shadary, Kabila’s intent is to take advantage of the DRC’s semi-presidential constitution to enact a  Putin-Medvedev scenario where, should Shadary become president, Kabila would be appointed prime minister and retain the real levers of power.

On the opposition side, two front runners are left standing: Felix Thisekedi of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), son of historical opposition leader Etienne Thisekedi who passed away last year, and former President of the National Assembly Vital Kamerhe of the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC). Two other opposition heavyweights were excluded: former Kabila-ally Moise Katumbi, who was impeded from returning from exile to register as a candidate; and former rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, recently returned from the International Criminal Court (ICC), who was disqualified because of his his conviction for witness tampering at the ICC.    

Fewer opposition candidates should make it easier to unite behind a single candidate and avoid splitting the vote – unless the opposition decides to boycott because of concerns over election administration. These concerns include the use of a controversial electronic voting machine and an incomplete voter register where 16 percent of voters lack fingerprints. Also, human rights abuses by security forces targeting political party activists are rising, according to the UN Mission in the DRC, MONUSCO, as elections approach.

The electoral campaign starting on November 22 is less than two months away. While Kabila has succeeded in establishing a unified coalition, the Common Front for Congo (FCC), backing Shadary, the opposition appears to be waffling still over how to select their candidate. Negotiations have been ongoing among opposition leaders without any formal agreement announced to date. Bemba has declared he is ready to back a consensus candidate, but who will it be and how will he be selected [there are no women among the top presidential contenders]? The opposition leaders have announced a public meeting on September 29, by which time we should know more about their strategy.

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