Congo-Kinshasa: Presidential Candidates Kick Off Month-Long Campaigns

Incumbent President Felix Tshisekedi is competing for a second term, while the opposition is trying to rally behind a single candidate. Rebel fighting in the east is casting its shadow over the vote.

Presidential candidates in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) launched their election campaigns on Sunday ahead of the country’s December 20 presidential vote.

Incumbent President Felix Tshisekedi is seeking a second term and is the favorite to win. He opened his campaign with a rally at the Martyrs Stadium in Kinshasa, filled to its capacity of 80,000 despite the rainy conditions.

“He tells the truth, and he’s the only one who is starting to do things,” said Papa Kalombo, a Kinshasa official for the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), which backs Tshisekedi.

Opposition attempts to topple incumbent

Meanwhile, the country’s opposition is trying to organize its ranks and agree on a single candidate to take on the president.

Representatives of five leading opposition groups met earlier this week in South Africa, in an effort to propose an individual for the job.

On Sunday evening, former Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo announced that he was dropping his presidential bid. Instead, Ponyo said he was throwing his support behind opposition candidate Moise Katumbi.

“Following consultations held in Pretoria, Moise Katumbi emerges as the candidate that could lead the opposition ticket represented by four major parties and groups that took part in this discussion,” Matata Ponyo said in a speech on Sunday night, without naming the parties.

Opposition parties fear a manipulated election. They have alleged irregularities during the voter registration period, accusing the Independent National Electoral Commission of being behind them to the benefit of Tshisekedi’s ruling coalition, an accusation denied by the commission.

East violence overshadows vote

Some 44 million registered voters are set to take part in the vote, out of the DRC’s population of some 100 million. Voters will also decide on candidates for the country’s legislative and local bodies.

The DRC has been plagued by three decades of fighting in the east. Violence surged again recently, with the March 23 (M23) rebel group occupying much of North Kivu province.

Many Western countries have concluded that the group is backed by Rwanda. Kigali denies the claim.

The fighting is expected to affect voting in two territories in the province. However, if rebels continue to capture territory and end up taking the provincial capital Goma, the entire voting process would be at stake.

rmt/ab (AFP, Reuters)