DR Congo President Joseph Kabila’s chosen candidate to run in upcoming presidential elections will be announced on Wednesday, his spokesman said, on the eve of a key campaign deadline.
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 chosen candidate “will be known early in the morning,” Kabila’s spokesman Lambert Mende told AFP after the talks.
During Tuesday’s meeting at Kabila’s family farm in Kingakati, outside the capital Kinshasa, the president addressed those present without discussing his own political future, participants said.
Kabila, in power since 2001, should have stepped down at the end of 2016 when his constitutional two-term limit expired, but has so far refused to say if will seek to run again.
Some of his opponents suspect that Kabila will still attempt to cling to power and seek a third term, despite the constitutional limit.
The uncertainty has ratcheted up political tensions, leading to anti-Kabila protests that have been bloodily repressed.
Names in the rumour mill include former prime minister Augustin Matata Ponyo; Kabila’s chief of staff, Nehemie Mwilanya Wilondja; and the president of the National Assembly, Aubin Minaku.
Ahead of Tuesday’s pro-Kabila alliance meeting, a source close to Kabila, said: “It’s not a secret any more — it’s about naming a candidate for our presidential platform.”
Candidates have until 1530 GMT Wednesday to file their bid for the December 23 poll — a twice-delayed ballot seen as crucial for the future of the notoriously unstable country.
A country of some 80 million people, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has never known a peaceful transition of power since it gained independence in 1960.
Kabila, 47, took over from his father, Laurent-Desire Kabila, who was assassinated by a bodyguard.
His tenure over the vast mineral-rich country has been marked by a reputation for corruption, inequality and unrest. The watchdog Transparency International ranked it 156 out of 176 countries in its 2016 corruption index.
Many provinces are in the grip of armed conflict and millions have had to flee their homes, many flocking to Uganda, Tanzania, Angola and Zambia.
The United States is ready to impose further sanctions to dissuade Kabila from continuing his hold on power, the Financial Times reported Monday.
“The US is trying to convince Kabila to go between now and August 8,” an unnamed source told the newspaper. “They’re trying to squeeze his family and his finances”.
Candidates who have already filed their bid include Jean-Pierre Bemba, 55, a former warlord and Kabila rival, who returned to Kinshasa last week after being acquitted of war crimes convictions by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Fellow heavyweight opposition candidate, Felix Tshisekedi, leader of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), filed his application on Tuesday.
Another candidate, who also declared his hand on Tuesday, is Tryphon Kin-Kiey Mulumba — once a spokesman to former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and twice a minister under Kabila.
Kin-Kiey — a vocal Kabila supporter — is running as an independent, local media said.
He told AFP he was running “in the name of my party,” called the Action Party.
The authorities last week barred Moise Katumbi, 53, a wealthy businessman and former governor of the province of Katanga, from returning home to file his bid.
Katumbi has been living in self-imposed exile in Belgium since May 2016 after falling out with Kabila.
The pro-Kabila FCC is an election platform combining two groups, the Presidential Majority and the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD).
After Wednesday’s deadline, the definitive list of candidates will be announced on September 19.