Government spokesman Lambert Mende on Wednesday announced that Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) President Joseph Kabila will not stand in the upcoming presidential election.
Under the constitution, Kabila is barred from running for a third term. However, he had previously showed no sign of giving up the presidency until Wednesday.
Instead, loyalist former Interior Minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, who is targeted by EU sanctions, will run as the ruling coalition's candidate in the December 23 election, Mende said.
The announcement marks a significant shift in the political landscape in DRC. Kabila has held the presidency since 2001, after taking over in the wake of the assassination of his father, former President Laurent-Desire Kabila.
But some observers have previously warned that such a move could play into the regime's larger strategy to continue its grasp on power.
The regime's "war chest dwarfs those of most opponents. It has near total control of the security forces, and a strong footing in the (electoral commission) and the Constitutional Court," said a report published in April by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.
"Through all of these levers, the regime can dictate the timing of the electoral process and calibrate how much political space it allows the opposition in different parts of the country."
Since 2015, large-scale protests have called for the president to resign alongside fresh elections. But the protests were often met with deadly suppression by security forces.
Human rights organizations had warned that large-scale violence could erupt in the event Kabila failed to step down. His decision to step down came hours before the official deadline to apply as a candidate for the December elections.
Congo has witnessed the deadliest conflict in modern African history, with two wars in the late 1990s and early 2000s that left more than 3 million people dead.
ls/amp (AFP, Reuters, AP)