Congo's Katumbi Backs Call for One Candidate Against Kabila

  • Former governor says he's in talks with opposition over choice
  • African nation scheduled to hold series of elections next year

Democratic Republic of Congo opposition leader Moise Katumbi said he supports the selection of a single opposition candidate to stop President Joseph Kabila from holding on to power in next year’s presidential elections.

“We are in the process of discussing a single candidate with all the members of the opposition, and when we agree we will announce this candidate to all of the Congolese population,” Katumbi said Thursday by phone from Paris.

Katumbi, the powerful former governor of a region in Congo that contains Africa’s richest copper deposits, quit the ruling party in September. Since then, he’s become increasingly vocal in his criticism of perceived attempts by Kabila to extend his 14-year rule.

Katumbi held talks in Paris Thursday with Felix Tshisekedi, the international spokesman for Congo’s largest opposition party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress. The pair discussed the need for presidential elections to be held in 2016 and for a political transition to take place, Katumbi said. They also discussed the proposal of a single opposition candidate, though no decision was made, he said.

Congolese opposition groups have called on the government and electoral authority to release a revised election timetable for six votes over the next year that should culminate in a presidential vote in November 2016. Provincial assembly and gubernatorial elections scheduled in October didn’t take place.

Tshisekedi agreed that the meeting had been successful.

“It went very well and now the future will tell us if we will continue together,” he said via text message from France.

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 that election, which Kabila won with 49 percent of the vote. Felix Tshisekedi’s father, Etienne, leader of the UDPS, and Vital Kamerhe, leader of the Union for the Congolese Nation, finished second and third with 32 percent and 8 percent of the vote respectively.

This time around, other opposition leaders have already expressed support for the selection of a single candidate, including Kamerhe, the former Planning Minister Olivier Kamitatu and Martin Fayulu of the Engagement for Citizenship and Development. Kamerhe said last week that he’d also discussed a common opposition candidate with the G7 opposition group, of which Kamitatu is a member.

National Dialogue

Kabila, 44, has yet to publicly confirm whether he will step down when his mandate ends in 2016. Last month, the president called for a national dialogue to discuss the organization of elections. Opposition groups including the UDPS, G7 and UNC have so far refused to participate. They say Kabila intends to use the talks to retain power by delaying the votes and encouraging a review of Congo’s electoral process and constitution.

“There is no national crisis in the Congo so we do not need a national dialogue,” said Katumbi. “Any dialogue must be limited to defining a revised election calendar for 2016.”

The UN Joint Human Rights Office in Congo warned Tuesday that an increase in levels of political repression this year, if unchecked, risks undermining the credibility of any elections. The report documented 143 human-rights violations in connection with the electoral process during the first nine months of 2015, including arbitrary arrests and extra-judicial executions. The government said the report was biased and unsubstantiated.

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