• Opposition parties coalescing to stop president keeping power
  • Kabila's call for national dialogue before vote rejected

Opposition parties in the Democratic Republic of Congo will select a single candidate to try and stop President Joseph Kabila from holding on to power in next year’s presidential election, one of his former challengers said.

Kabila, 44, has yet to publicly confirm he will step down when his mandate ends in 2016 and the electoral authority has failed to publish a revised calendar of local, provincial and national elections after votes to elect governors and provincial assemblies in October were delayed. He’s led Congo since 2001 and won elections in 2006 and 2011; the constitution doesn’t allow him to run for another term.

“The first objective is an electoral calendar that respects the constitutional timeline, the second is the selection of a single opposition candidate,” Vital Kamerhe, leader of the Union for the Congolese Nation, said in an interview Tuesday in the capital, Kinshasa.

Congo is Africa’s biggest copper producer and the world’s largest source of cobalt, a metal used in rechargeable batteries. The country is rebuilding its economy shattered by two civil wars that ended in 2003 and killed millions of people.

Joining Forces

Kamerhe, who won 8 percent of the vote in presidential elections in 2011, was one of at least 18 opposition party leaders from two coalition groups, La Dynamique and the so-called G7, who on Nov. 30 signed a joint declaration rejecting a national political dialogue proposed by Kabila. It was the first time the two groups issued a statement together.

In 2011, the government amended the constitution to change the presidential election from two rounds to one round in a move that analysts said would favor the incumbent by splitting the opposition vote. Ultimately 11 candidates competed in the November election, which Kabila won with 49 percent of the vote. Etienne Tshisekedi, leader of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, finished second with 32 percent and contested the results.

This time around, Kamerhe said La Dynamique has already agreed it will propose a single candidate, while discussions have also been held with the members of G7.

‘Strong Leaders’

“The opposition has many strong leaders, it is not limited only to Kamerhe and Katumbi,” Kamerhe said, referring to the powerful governor of Katanga province, Moise Katumbi, who left the ruling party in September. “There are also other members of the opposition who have the right to express their ambition, through a sort of primary, even if it is not conducted formally, and we will arrive at a single candidate.”

Congo’s largest opposition party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, hasn’t been involved in discussions with other opposition parties yet. The party wouldn’t rule out a coalition, but a single candidate would have to come from the UDPS.

“We must absolutely present a candidate, we are the first party of Congo,” party spokesman Felix Tshisekedi said in an interview Wednesday in Kinshasa.

UDPS wasn’t party to the joint declaration by the G7 and La Dynamique, though it has also rejected the dialogue.

Kabila said Nov. 28 that he would accept international mediation. The UDPS said it wants the mediator in place before preparations for the dialogue, which have now begun.

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