BFF-84 Bemba in spotlight as DR Congo opens registration for election bids

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DRCONGO-POLITICS-VOTE

Bemba in spotlight as DR Congo opens registration for election bids

KINSHASA, July 24, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – The Democratic Republic of Congo on
Tuesday prepared for a two-week period for candidates to register their bids
for key elections as former vice president and ex-warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba
took centre-stage.

As the clock ticked toward the midnight start of registration, Bemba
declared he would return home next week to file his bid for the presidency —
the first opposition candidate abroad to do so.

Bemba, 55, a former warlord and businessman, was jailed at the
International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague before an 18-year war crimes
conviction was overturned on appeal in June.

He has been formally named as his party’s candidate in the vote on December
23, while the Kinshasa government has authorised him to apply for a
diplomatic passport.

“I intend to arrive in Kinshasa on the morning of August 1,” Bemba said in
Brussels on Tuesday after his party, the Movement for the Liberation of the
Congo (MLC), made the announcement the previous evening.

“I am returning for family reasons, to see where my father is buried and to
file my candidacy candidacy for the presidential elections,” Bemba told a
press conference.

He said would be arriving aboard a private plane, and that the Congolese
authorities and the United Nations, which has a mission in the DRC, had been
informed of his plans.

Bemba, a former rival to President Joseph Kabila, left the country in 2007
after a violent armed standoff between his militia and the security forces.

He was then arrested in Europe on an ICC warrant for war crimes committed
by his men in Central African Republic.

But he insisted that his intentions were peaceful.

“My return is not an act of vengeance, there is no idea of bitterness (or)
vengeance,” he said. – Unpredictable –

Bemba’s declared return adds a new and potent factor of uncertainty into
what is already a tense election in one of the most volatile countries in
Africa.

Candidates must submit their applications to stand by August 8.

The DRC has never known a peaceful transition of power since it gained
independence from Belgium in 1960 — and some experts fear that the December
23 elections may provide the trigger for a bloody conflict.

Kabila, 47, has has been at the helm since 2001, presiding over a vast
mineral-rich country with a reputation for corruption, inequality and unrest.

He was scheduled to stand down at the end of 2016 after his second elected
term, technically the last permitted under the constitution.

But he has stayed in office, invoking a constitutional clause enabling him
to stay in power until a successor is elected.

He has kept everyone guessing about whether he will run again, step down or
take some other path that could enable him to stay in the political
forefront.

Dozens have died in anti-Kabila protests. The influential Roman Catholic
Church has called for three days of popular mobilisation on August 12-14
should Kabila stand again.

The five main opposition parties on Monday issued a statement to call for
“free, democratic and transparent” elections.

But they insisted that Kabila should not take part and the elections should
take place without electronic voting machines, which they consider a tool for
rigging the results.

“Kabila can no longer stand again, the constitution is there — if it is
not respected, it’s a disaster for the country,” Bemba said in Brussels.

“I am campaigning for a single opposition candidacy,” he said, adding, this
would “not necessarily be me.”

The opposition forces include the Union for Democracy and Social Progress
(UPDS), which last year lost its veteran leader and onetime prime minister
Etienne Tshisekedi, who died at the age of 84. His son Felix now heads the
party.

Another figure with the presidency in his sights is Moise Katumbi, the ex-
governor of the southeastern Katanga province, who went into self-imposed
exile in 2016 after falling out with his buddy Kabila.

He “will return in the next few days to file his candidacy,” his lawyer in
Paris, Olivier Kamitatu, said on Tuesday.

Bemba faces a ruling in a separate ICC case about bribing witnesses. Legal
experts, however, believe he would be freed definitively in light of the
decade he has already spent behind bars.

BSS/AFP/MRI/2333 hrs