By Andrew Irumba
Kinshasa– Congo’s President Joseph Kabila will not stand in the election scheduled for December, a spokesman said, finally agreeing to obey a two-term limit but picking a hard-core loyalist under European Union sanctions to stand instead.
The announcement on Wednesday by spokesman Lambert Mende that former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary would represent Kabila’s ruling coalition in the Dec. 23rd vote came just hours before the deadline to register candidates.
Ramazani, dressed in a light suit and flanked by supporters from the coalition, briefly addressed reporters after filing his candidature later in the afternoon at the headquarters of the national electoral commission in the capital Kinshasa.
“President Kabila said there would be no problem. He said there would be no third term. Today, he has kept his promise,” Ramazani said. “It is a great honor for me and, with time, we are going to offer a social program.” He told party supporters.
Kabila was due to step down in 2016 at the end of his constitutional mandate. But the election to replace him was repeatedly delayed and he refused to commit explicitly to not seeking a third term.
That sparked protests in which the security forces killed dozens of people, and stoked militia violence in Democratic Republic of Congo’s volatile east.
Kabila had come under strong pressure from regional allies such as Angola as well as the United States and EU to step down.
The selection of Ramazani, 57, is, however, a defiant move. He is under EU sanctions for alleged human rights abuses, including deadly crackdowns by security forces on protesters.
Kabila’s choice of a die-hard loyalist suggests that the president, who came to power after his father’s assassination in 2001, intends to remain closely involved in national politics. He will be eligible to run again in 2023.
A Ramazani victory could also lead to a continuation of Kabila’s policies, including a tough line on the mining sector, where foreign investors hope the government will walk back steep tax hikes approved earlier this year.
Congo is Africa’s top producer of copper and the world’s leading miner of cobalt, which is prized for its use in batteries for electric cars and other electronics.
Several opposition candidates, including Bemba and the president of Congo’s largest opposition party, Felix Tshisekedi, have also registered to run.
By close of registration on Wednesday evening, more than two dozen candidates had filed their candidacies. The definitive list of candidates will be published on Sept.19.