Congo Opposition Threatens to Reject Election If Kabila Runs

(Bloomberg) -- Opposition leaders in the Democratic Republic of Congo denounced President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to rule himself out of upcoming elections, saying they will reject the polls if he is a candidate.

Congo is preparing to hold elections in December, two years later than scheduled. While the constitution bars Kabila from seeking a third term, he’s yet to say whether he’ll be a candidate or not. Attempting to extend his 17-year rule would outrage his opponents and risk destabilizing Africa’s biggest copper producer, which hasn’t had a peaceful transfer of power since independence in 1960.

Kabila’s persistent failure to clarify his plans points to another attempt “to install a personal regime which he intends to legitimize by a parody of elections,” five major opposition groups said in a joint statement Monday in the capital, Kinshasa. The opposition will “hinder any electoral process driven unilaterally by Kabila’s camp and based on fraud,” they said.

The declaration was signed by groups headed by Moise Katumbi, Felix Tshisekedi and Jean-Pierre Bemba, all of whom have been nominated as presidential candidates, and Vital Kamerhe, who came third in elections in 2011.

‘Peaceful Transfer’

Kabila was supposed to step down in late 2016 at the end of his second term, the limit under Congo’s constitution, but elections were postponed. He opted to remain in office, sparking protests in which security forces killed dozens of people.

The president said last week his commitment to the constitution remains “unequivocal.” Still, the addition in May of several Kabila allies to the Constitutional Court has spurred concerns the judiciary could rule the sitting head of state has served one term under the current constitution due to a modification adopted in 2011. Kabila has ruled Congo since 2001, winning his first election in 2006 and the second five years later.

The United Nations and the African Union said in a statement last week that the elections “must lead to a peaceful and democratic transfer of power, in accordance with the constitution.” Kabila’s intentions will probably become clearer over the next two weeks as presidential candidates are required to register with the electoral commission from July 25 to Aug. 8.

Strongest Opponents

Two of Kabila’s strongest opponents -- Bemba and Katumbi -- are currently outside Congo, though the former is set to return next week and the latter by Aug. 8. Bemba, whose conviction for war crimes was overturned in the International Criminal Court last month, will arrive in Kinshasa on Aug. 1 and file his candidacy papers, said Fidele Babala, a lawmaker from his Movement for the Liberation of Congo.

Katumbi, a former Kabila ally and governor of the copper-rich Katanga province, has been in self-imposed exile since May 2016 and was sentenced in absentia for illegally selling a property. He is the subject of several open judicial investigations he considers politically motivated.

Any detention of Katumbi, who plans to register as a presidential candidate when he returns to the country, would be “an arbitrary arrest,” his lawyer Eric Dumond-Moretti told reporters Tuesday in Brussels.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.