DEMOCRATIC Republic of Congo (DRC) begins a month-long election campaign on Sunday with incumbent President Felix Tshisekedi facing a crowded field of 25 candidates amid a tense political climate and fighting in the east of the country.
Some 44 million registered voters, out of a population of almost 100 million, will elect a president on 20 December.
They will also be electing members of the national parliament and of regional assemblies in DRC’s 26 provinces, as well as local councillors.
The challenges are enormous. As the world’s largest producer of battery material cobalt and a major copper producer, Congo has vast resources, but conflict and corruption are endemic.
A ‘pre-campaign’ has been underway for a while, with President Felix Tshisekedi, who is seeking a second term, attending numerous public events while his allies vaunt his record.
With the launch of the official campaign, candidates will be allowed to hold big rallies and give media interviews and hand out flyers.
Tshisekedi is holding a rally on Sunday at the Martyrs stadium in Kinshasa while one of his main challengers, Martin Fayulu, addresses a rally in the nearby province of Bandundu, his fiefdom.
In total there are a record 25,832 candidates for DRC‘s legislative elections – 44,110 for provincial bodies and 31,234 for municipal councils, according to the Electoral Commission (Ceni), which faces the struggle of organising voting across the country’s 2.3 million square kilometres and limited infrastructure.
‘There is a political will to stick to the electoral calendar, but there are doubts about the technical feasibility,’ said Tresor Kibangula, a political analyst at the Ebuteli research institute.
One round of voting favours incumbent
The east of the country has been racked by fighting for three decades, and violence is surging again after the M23 group, supported by Rwanda, recently occupied much of Nord Kivu province.
The fighting will prevent normal voting in two territories in the province, but the whole process would be threatened if rebels take the provincial capital Goma.
‘M23 will not take Goma,’ insisted Tshisekedi, who says a return to calm is his priority, along with improving services and the economy, building roads and respecting freedom of speech and of the press.
His record is mixed, according to analysts, and disastrous according to the opposition, which is already warning of massive fraud.
In addition to Fayulu, who claims he was robbed of victory in 2018, the main opposition candidates are Moise Katumbi, former governor of the Katanga mining region; Doctor Denis Mukwege, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 for his work with victims of sexual violence; and two former prime ministers.
The incumbent president is favoured to win, particularly since there is only one round of voting, but representatives of five leading opposition groups met this week in South Africa to study the possibility of proposing a single candidate.
A coalition has been formed and a common platform adopted, but Fayulu has yet to adhere.