Congo President Won’t Run Again in Long-Delayed Election

UDPS opposition party leader Felix Tshisekedi looks at supporters during a rally in Kinshasa

The United States on Wednesday welcomed President Joseph Kabila's decision to step aside and not seek re-election in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but said more must be done to ensure a democratic transfer of power.

Shadary's nomination as the presidential candidate ends several months of rumors about the future of Kabila, whose second and last term has expired since the end of 2016.

The Dec. 23 vote should now herald Congo's first democratic transition of power following decades marked by authoritarian rule, coups and deadly conflict.

Members of a pro-Kabila alliance known as the Common Front for Congo (FCC) were called to the presidential residence on the outskirts of Kinshasa on Tuesday evening for an "important meeting", a minister told AFP.

The announcement by spokesman Lambert Mende at a news conference puts an end to years of speculation about whether Joseph Kabila would defy term limits to run for a third term.

Ramazani Shadary, a Kabila loyalist, was among a group of Congolese officials sanctioned by the European Union in 2017 for violations of human rights.

The announcement that Kabila will not run again for the People's Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) will ease fears in the region and beyond that a Kabila candidacy would drag the country back into the civil wars of the turn of the century in which millions died, mostly from hunger and disease.

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Hours after his candidacy was announced he told reporters that "the people need peace".

Opposition leaders fear the goodwill Kabila could earn from not seeking a new term could make it easier for his coalition to cheat and are concerned about electronic voting machines due to be used for the first time.

Kabila, who came to power in 2001 after the assassination of his father, former President Laurent Kabila, by law can not run again after his mandate ended in late 2016. "Tough pressure from Congo's regional and global partners must continue for the country to see a truly democratic transition and to prevent more repression and bloodshed in the months ahead". "We are still very far from a credible electoral process, and many things can happen by December, including additional delays". His party did not register him in his absence.

Mr Shadary will face former Vice-President Jean Pierre Bemba, who returned to DR Congo last week after being acquitted of war crimes at the International Criminal Court.

Fellow heavyweight opposition candidate, Felix Tshisekedi, leader of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), filed his application on Tuesday. He had been convicted for murder, rape and pillaging committed by his Movement for the Liberation of Congo forces in neighboring Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003.

Whoever wins the December 23 vote takes over a vast country with trillions of dollars' worth of mineral wealth but with dozens of armed groups battling for a part of it. Millions of Congolese have been displaced by various internal conflicts.

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