Congo Leader Mulls Possible Successors in Private Meetings

(Bloomberg) -- Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila is meeting members of his ruling coalition to discuss who will be its candidate in presidential elections this year, party and government officials said.

The central African nation is scheduled to hold parliamentary and presidential votes on Dec. 23 that have been delayed since 2016 by the electoral commission’s inability to organize them. While the constitution bars Kabila from seeking a third term, he’s yet to say whether he’ll be a candidate. Attempting to extend his 17-year rule risks destabilizing Africa’s biggest copper and cobalt producer, which hasn’t had a peaceful transfer of power since independence in 1960.

Congo Leader Mulls Possible Successors in Private Meetings

Representatives of about a dozen groups that make up the Common Front for Congo, known as the FCC, were invited individually to Kabila’s farm outside the capital, Kinshasa, for consultations that are ongoing, the officials said Monday. Two said he asked each group to come back to him with a list of four preferred potential presidential candidates.

“We are in deliberation to think about the profile of the candidate,” said Ferdinand Kambere, the deputy permanent secretary of Kabila’s party, the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy. The PPRD is expected to deliver its four names on Tuesday, Kambere said, without saying who it will nominate.

‘Unequivocal’ Commitment

Kabila said July 19 his commitment to the constitution is “unequivocal,” but his persistent refusal to rule himself out of the next election is fueling fears among his opponents and the international community that he plans to change or reinterpret the rules. Several senior allies have said the president has the right to run in December, arguing a modification adopted in 2011 introduced a completely new constitution.

Tryphon Kin-Kiey, a former minister of parliamentary affairs and senior FCC member, said his representatives met Kabila on July 28.

“Lots of groups will name him among the four names,” Kin-Kiey said. “Some groups give four names; others give only one name, the name of Kabila.” Kin-Kiey wasn’t present at the meeting because he was abroad, but was fully briefed on what took place.

Kabila’s deputy chief-of-staff, Jean-Pierre Kambila, said Kabila didn’t request specific names of potential FCC candidates. Instead, “he asked them to reflect on the criteria” that should apply to choosing a candidate, according to Kambila.

Congo Communications Minister Lambert Mende said he was at the president’s farm on Monday and his group had not at that point been asked to prepare a list of names.

Registration for presidential candidates opened last week and the final day to file applications with the country’s electoral commission is Aug. 8.

“The candidate will emerge naturally,” Kambila said. “There are still eight days.”

Two prominent opposition politicians – Jean-Pierre Bemba and Moise Katumbi – intend to return to Congo in the coming days to register as presidential candidates.

Opinion Poll

Bemba, acquitted in June of war crimes’ convictions at the International Criminal Court, is due to arrive back in Kinshasa on Aug. 1. Katumbi, in self-imposed exile since May 2016, plans to fly to Lubumbashi, his home region in southeastern Congo, two days later.

Both men may find their presidential bids obstructed. Kabila’s coalition said last week that a second ICC conviction for witness tampering should exclude Bemba from being a candidate. Katumbi was convicted in absentia for illegally selling a property and is subject to several other legal investigations, which he says are politically motivated. He could face arrest if he returns to Congo.

A poll released Tuesday by New York University’s Congo Research Group found that Katumbi and Felix Tshisekedi, head of Congo’s largest opposition party, would score best in an election -- both securing 19 percent of the vote. Bemba would come third with 17 percent, while only 9 percent of voters would choose Kabila, according to the survey.

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