Opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi has returned to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, to kick off his campaign to replace longtime president and foe Joseph Kabila in December elections.
“We will go with the people and we will win,” Tshisekedi, the 55-year-old son of the late Etienne Tshisekedi, the face of the DRC’s opposition for decades, said on Tuesday.
He vowed to deploy teams of observers to combat election fraud, while his running mate Vital Kamerhe, a former speaker of parliament, said on Twitter that the pair made a “winning ticket”.
Tens of thousands of supporters from Tshisekedi’s main opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) party and Kamerhe’s Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) were on hand to greet them as they arrived at Kinshasa’s airport.
Under an agreement reached on Friday in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, if Tshisekedi wins the presidency in the December 23 polls he will appoint Kamerhe as his prime minister.
Kamerhe, who ran against Kabila in 2011, will be Tshisekedi’s campaign director.
The pair withdrew from an agreement hammered out in Geneva earlier this month in which seven opposition parties coalesced around a joint candidate in order to boost chances of victory.
Their surprise choice, little-known member of parliament Martin Fayulu, will now vie against Tshisekedi, as well as former Interior Minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, Kabila’s hand-picked successor.
Tshisekedi, who does not enjoy the same degree of popularity as his father, last year told the AFP news agency that if he won the presidency he would set up a “truth and reconciliation commission” to call Kabila to account, but would allow him to stay in the country.
He has promised a return to the rule of law, to fight the “gangrene” of corruption and to bring peace to the conflict-wracked east of the vast mineral-rich central African country.
Fayulu enjoys the support of opposition heavyweights Jean-Pierre Bemba and Moise Katumbi, both barred from running.
Bemba, a former militia leader who was Kabila’s vice president from 2003 to 2006, saw his conviction for war crimes overturned at the International Criminal Court in June. He later registered to run in the elections, but his candidacy was later disqualified by electoral officials.
Once touted as a consensus opposition candidate, popular business tycoon Katumbi, who lives in exile in Belgium, has been accused of training mercenaries to topple Kabila and was convicted in absentia for real estate fraud.
Shadary, a hardline former interior minister, is one of 15 Congolese individuals under European Union sanctions, accused of human rights violations between December 2016 and early 2018.
In all, 21 candidates are registered to run in the race to replace 47-year-old Kabila, who has ruled since his father, president Laurent-Desire Kabila, was assassinated in 2001.
Kabila’s second and final elected term in office ended nearly two years ago, but he has remained in office thanks to a caretaker clause in the Constitution.
The volatile, poverty-stricken nation has never known a peaceful transition of power since independence from Belgium in 1960.