The DR Congo plans to go to the polls in just a few months. The opposition needs a consensus candidate if it wants to have a chance at the presidency, experts say. This looks highly unlikely.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) plans to go to the polls to elect a new president in December. But the list of candidates, which is scheduled to be published on September 19 doesn't look very promising. The influence of President Joseph Kabila is still too great and many of the opposition candidates are already out of the race.
It was a skillful move when President Kabila renounced a third and thus illegal candidacy in August 2018. Instead he has sent his former interior minister, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, into the race. Experts say Shadary is loyal to Kabila and does not have a strong base within the ruling party — according to many, his nomination secures Kabila a share of power.
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Little hope for change
"Shadary is clearly Joseph Kabila's preferred candidate, he nominated him," says Gesine Ames of the Ecumenical Network Central Africa. "Shadary is loyal to the presidential family, and if he takes office, there will be a Kabila-friendly course," the DRC expert told DW adding that this leaves little hope for political change which "the population urgently wants because of the political and humanitarian situation."
Opinion polls haven't been favorable for the 57-year-old former interior minister, says Ames. A member of the ruling People's Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD), he is on a European Union sanctions list for human rights crimes in the Kasai region which he was responsible for as interior minister. In addition to that burden, he is not very well known in the country, Ames says, adding that he could nevertheless narrowly win. According to the DRC's new electoral law the presidential candidate only needs a simple majority to win.
From the start, conditions have been bad for a democratic election, Ames says. "It has become more and more of a farce."
Strong candidates barred
This situation makes it difficult for the opposition, especially since its candidates are controversial too.
Of the 19 candidates on the list, Felix Tshisekedi and Vital Kamerhe are the most established. The two opposition candidates originally at the top of the list have been excluded from the election: Jean-Pierre Bemba and Moise Katumbi are not allowed to run for office. The Congolese Electoral Commission declared the candidacy of Congo's former Vice-President Bemba inadmissible because the International Criminal Court in The Hague sentenced the former militia leader to 18 years in prison by for war crimes. This conviction was surprisingly overturned in an appeal in June due to procedural irregularities, but Bemba was fined for bribing witnesses.
Moise Katumbi, a well known government critic, was refused entry into the DRC a few weeks ago to submit his candidacy. As a result, Vital Kamerhe, the 59-year-old chairman of the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) and ex-president of parliament, and Felix Tshisekedi moved further into the limelight. Both candidates have some degree of backing, but their camps are less powerful than the excluded candidates'," Ames says.
Opposition without a base of support
Kamerhe, Ames says, is not sufficiently well known to be successful. Born in the province of Kivu, he is politically controversial and lacks the financial means to organize a major election campaign. The economist was one of Kabila's collaborators in the 2006 election campaign, mainly responsible for the fact that Kabila won quite a few votes in the provinces of North and South Kivu. Kamerhe became president of parliament, only to resign in March 2009 under pressure from Kabila. In December 2010, Kamerhe resigned from Kabila's PPRD party and founded the UNC.
Felix Tshisekedi last year succeeded his father Etienne, the veteran leader of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS). The move led to unrest in the DRC as there were other candidates waiting in the wings. Felix Tshisekedi has little political experience and is not strongly networked in the DRC, says Ames, adding that the 53-year-old, who studied marketing in Brussels, lacks a base. Tshisekedi has been a member of parliament since 2011 and UDPS party leader since March 2018, but he has not been politically active otherwise.
Consensus candidate unlikely
The chances of the opposition winning are pretty low at this point, according to Ben Shepherd, a consulting fellow at the Chatham House Africa Program.
In the end, he argues, "it is not so much about policy as it is about the ability to mobilize." The question, Shepherd told DW, is not whether Tshisekedi or Kamerhe could win, but whether "the opposition can unify itself to the point where they get a consensus candidate, which would give them a realistic chance assuming the elections go ahead without manipulation."
People want "more systemic change" but they are most likely to vote for whoever they think will be able to bring their community a little bit more support, he says, As it is unlikely the opposition will agree on a consensus candidate, Shepherd concludes, "Shadary will probably win the election."