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Who's who in DR Congo's landmark presidential elections

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2011-11-25

On November 28 the DR Congo will hold the second democratic presidential elections in the country’s history. Eleven candidates are vying for power, but only a few have a chance of dethroning incumbent Joseph Kabila.

Election officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo have accepted 11 candidates for the country’s presidential poll, to be held on November 28 at the same time as parliamentary elections. According to the election commission, around 30 million people are eligible to cast ballots in what will be the DRC’s second democratic vote since its independence in 1960.

A November 9 report by the United Nations condemned pre-election violence across the vast and mineral-rich country, signaling that “preparations for the elections have taken place against a backdrop of limited freedom of expression and freedom of association.” The UN said most of the violence targeted supporters of opposition candidates, who for their part claimed that the country was logistically unprepared to hold the vote.

Incumbent president Joseph Kabila is hoping to secure a second five-year term, and is facing serious opposition from a handful of rivals who are counting on strong regional and tribal allegiances to win. Kabila’s main challenger in 2006, Jean-Pierre Bemba, is awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court in the Hague for war crimes.

Who are the presidential hopefuls in the DRC’s possibly explosive poll?

Joseph Kabila, a former military man, inherited the post of president in 2001 at age 29 after the assassination of his father, former president Laurent Desire Kabila. In July 2006 he won the country’s first democratic election with 58% of votes in a run-off poll. In October 2011, 40-year-old Kabila secured the endorsement of the PALU party, his coalition partner and third largest party in parliament, tipping him as the frontrunner in the Nov. 28 poll. Parliament’s approval of a law scrapping a run-off if no candidate wins an outright majority should also help his re-election bid. However, UN reports about pre-election violence perpetrated above all by government security forces, as well as a leaked report about tampering with voter lists, have cast further doubts on the fairness of the election.

Veteran politician Etienne Tshisekedi is the country’s historic opposition figure and has mostly lived in South Africa in recent years. The 78-year-old is known to suffer from diabetes and there is speculation of other health problems. He boycotted the 2006 election, saying it had been rigged. For this year’s vote, Tshisekedi has called on other opposition leaders to rally around him to defeat Kabila, but his inflexibility over future power-sharing has put off the strongest candidates. His decades-old Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) party is one of the few to boast a national presence, and has overwhelming support in the heavily-populated southern Kasai provinces. The UDPS has highlighted legitimate concerns over election irregularities, but Tshisekedi’s call to respond with violence in some cases has raised concerns among DRC voters and international observers.

As Kabila’s former campaign manager, Vital Kamerhe, 52, has been largely credited for the incumbent’s election victory in 2006. Once the speaker of the National Assembly, he effectively broke with Kabila’s PPRD party in 2009 after voicing his disapproval of an executive order that allowed Rwandan troops to operate within the country without parliament’s knowledge or approval. However, analysts say that Kamerhe’s growing influence in national politics and his wide popularity in parliament had also become a threat to Kabila’s government and led to his departure. A relatively young politician, Kamerhe is a dynamic and skilled campaigner. He has galvanised younger voters, especially in the eastern Kivu provinces. Votes in eastern RDC were crucial to Kabila’s victory in the last elections.

Like Etienne Tshisekedi, Léon Kengo Wa Dondo has been a political fixture since the Mobuto regime and is associated with the country’s old guard. As a occasional ally of the former dictator, Kengo, 76, has faced both Tshisekedi and Laurent Kabila as political enemies in the past. However, he flew to South Africa in early November in an apparent attempt to forge an alliance with Tshisekedi. Since 2007 he has served as the president of the Senate and largely avoided controversy in that role. He has gained some recognition outside the DRC for having implemented the free-market economic reforms demanded by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. However, his support within the country is scattered, even in his native western Equateur province.

Other candidates to watch

While he has no chance of becoming president, the youngest son of former dictator Mobuto Sese Seko, François-Joseph Mobutu, has support in the province of Equateur where the Mobuto family still wields influence. He joined in a political coalition with Kabila in the second round of the 2006 vote, an alliance that won him an appointment as Minister of State for Agriculture in 2007. Candidate Antipas Mbusa is a former rebel leader and commands support from an important constituency in the North Kivu province. Mbusa ran as a candidate in 2006 and at the last minute backed Kabila, a move that secured him the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2007 to 2008. Many expect Mbusa to do the same in the 2011 vote.

Date created : 2011-11-23


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