Congo President-Elect Strikes a Conciliatory Tone After Win

(Bloomberg) -- The Democratic Republic of Congo’s incoming president, Felix Tshisekedi, will work with his predecessor to foster reconciliation and accelerate development in the poverty-stricken nation, his party said.

Tshisekedi, 55, became the first opposition leader to win an election in the cobalt- and copper-rich country when electoral authorities on Thursday declared him the victor of a Dec. 30 vote. Rival candidate Martin Fayulu, who was backed by two of outgoing President Joseph Kabila’s biggest adversaries, said the ballot was rigged and called on his supporters to reject the result.

Congo President-Elect Strikes a Conciliatory Tone After Win

While the Constitutional Court has yet to validate the outcome, Tshisekedi is preparing to work with Kabila to foster unity, rather than carry out a purge of officials suspected of any wrongdoing, said Paul Tshilumbu, spokesman for the Union for Democracy and Social Progress.

“We will not conduct a witch hunt,” he said by phone from the capital, Kinshasa. “We want national reconciliation.”

Power Sharing

UDPS and government officials both signaled a day before the results announcement that they were open to sharing power. Barnabe Kikaya bin Karubi, a senior adviser to Kabila, told reporters Thursday the two leaders haven’t met yet.

Tshilumbu praised Kabila, whose 18-year rule was marred by a controversial 2011 election, a violent crackdown on opposition supporters and allegations that he used his position to expand his family’s business interests.

“Kabila has played a positive role in the conclusion of this democratic process,” Tshilumbu said. “He has done what he had to as a Congolese citizen.”

While Tshisekedi has never held public office, he grew up with politics from a young age.

His father, Etienne Tshisekedi, founded the UDPS in 1982 as Congo’s first opposition party and built into the country’s largest. He finished as runner-up to Kabila in 2011 presidential elections, whose outcome he disputed. His son won a seat in the concurrent 2011 parliamentary vote, but never occupied it because Etienne barred UDPS politicians from taking up the positions.

Internal Exile

As a young adult, Felix Tshisekedi was forced to live in internal exile in his father’s native Kasai province until the then-government of former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko allowed him to leave for Belgium in 1985. A year after his father died in a hospital in Brussels in 2017, Tshisekedi was elected to succeed him as head of the party.

“Etienne Tshisekedi helped bring about this moment,” Tshilumbu said. “Today is the conclusion of his fight, his struggle of more than 36 years.”

After publicly supporting a proposal to back a single candidate to challenge Kabila’s ruling coalition in the run-up to last month’s vote, Tshisekedi then reneged on a deal with other opposition leaders to unify behind the relatively unknown Fayulu. He then formed an alliance with Vital Kamerhe, the leader of another major opposition party who finished third in the previous presidential election.

No Argument

Tshilumbu said Fayulu’s claims of rigging should be presented to the relevant authorities.

“We, as the UDPS, will not argue with him,” he said. “We only say that if he has evidence that it’s him who won, then show the evidence because we have the evidence that Felix Tshisekedi is the winner of these elections.”

Tshisekedi has often said his upbringing compensates for his inexperience in public office. While he’s pledged to fight poverty and end insecurity in Congo, it’s not clear what he proposes to do once he’s installed as president. His coalition with Kamerhe didn’t publish a policy program during the election campaign, which mainly focused on calls for an end to the Kabila regime.

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