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New opposition alliance shakes up DR Congo election


Added 24th November 2018 07:25 AM

On November 11, seven opposition leaders -- including Tshisekedi and Kamerhe -- agreed to back Martin Fayulu as the unity candidate.

Josephkabila 703x422

President Joseph Kabila. Photo/File

On November 11, seven opposition leaders -- including Tshisekedi and Kamerhe -- agreed to back Martin Fayulu as the unity candidate.

Prominent DR Congo opposition figures Felix Tshisekedi and Vital Kamerhe on Friday announced a new alliance that looks set to shake up next month's crucial presidential elections.

The announcement came exactly a month before voters head to the polls to chose a successor to President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled this volatile, poverty-stricken nation with an iron fist since 2001. 

But the watershed election has highlighted deep divisions among the opposition that earlier this month scuppered a historic deal to unite behind a single candidate to take on Kabila's handpicked successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary. 

On November 11, seven opposition leaders -- including Tshisekedi and Kamerhe -- agreed to back Martin Fayulu as the unity candidate.

But following grassroots opposition from their parties, the pair withdrew their support, and on Friday they announced they would be running on a joint ticket at a press conference in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. 

Under the deal, signed in front of cameras, Tshisekedi would become president and Kamerhe, who will be his campaign director, would assume the post of prime minister should they win. 

"We are here to sign an agreement for a ticket to go together to elections," Kamerhe said. "I decide today to support Tshisekedi as the president of Congo."

Their withdrawal from the pact to unite behind Fayulu had left the opposition weakened and in disarray.

Tshisekedi is the son of DR Congo's most famous oppositionist, Etienne Tshisekedi, while Kamerhe, a former National Assembly president, ran against Kabila in 2011.

Promising a "break with bad governance" Kamerhe said, "We are going to run Congo differently, we are not among those who say, 'We come to power, it's our turn to eat!'"

Tshisekedi promised a return to the rule of law, to fight the "gangrene" of corruption and to bring peace to the east of the country.

Eastern DR Congo has been ravaged by decades of inter-ethnic bloodshed and militia violence, and has recently been hit by a deadly Ebola outbreak, testing a large UN peacekeeping mission deployed in the country.

Array of candidates

Twenty-one candidates are registered to run in the race to replace 47-year-old Kabila, who has ruled since his father, president Laurent-Desire Kabila, was assassinated in 2001. 

Kabila's second and final elected term in office ended nearly two years ago, but he has remained in office thanks to a caretaker clause in the constitution.

Months of speculation over Kabila's intentions, marked by deadly protests, ended in August when, under international pressure, he threw his weight behind Shadary. 

The hardline former interior minister is one of 15 Congolese individuals under European Union sanctions, accused of human rights violations between December 2016 and early 2018.

Tshisekedi and Kamerhe said they would return to Kinshasa on Tuesday to start their joint campaign, with Tshisekedi urging supporters to show their backing for what he called a "winning ticket". 

At stake in the December 23 vote is the political future of a mineral-rich country that has never known a peaceful transition of power since independence from Belgium in 1960.

Around half of DR Congo's population of 80 million are eligible to vote.

The electoral board is standing by its decision to use 106,000 touchscreen electronic voting machines supplied by South Korea, despite some opposition demands -- by Fayulu in particular -- for paper ballots in order to prevent fraud.

The government, which has a thorny relationship notably with the UN, has rejected all forms of international financial or logistical assistance for the election in a country nearly five times the size of France.

The UN peacekeeping force MONUSCO has proposed using its helicopters and planes to ferry imported voting machines to polling stations nationwide.

But Kinshasa wants to see MONUSCO gone by 2020, ending a 20-year presence including more than 16,000 pairs of boots on the ground at an annual cost of more than a billion dollars.

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