The announcement by Congolese president Joseph Kabila that he will not be on the ballot in the December 23 elections was greeted with relief, with US State Department commending him for the decision and calling for a credible vote.
“The ruling coalition’s announcement of a consensus candidate other than President Kabila represents a significant step forward for Congolese democracy,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.
“Government, opposition, and civil society leaders, along with the heads of the security services share with President Kabila the responsibility of ensuring full respect for democratic norms.”
A Kabila spokesman on Wednesday said he would not run in the election, with a hard-core loyalist, former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary running in his place.
President Kabila was due to step down in 2016, but the vote to replace him was repeatedly delayed.
The presidential contest now boils down to three personalities — Mr Shadary, former warlord Jean Pierre Bemba and Felix Tshisekedi — with support from political forces that are not in the race.
The limelight is on Mr Shadary, who has been handpicked by President Kabila to lead the ruling coalition, Common Front for Congo (FCC).
Experts on Congo say that 57-year-old who is the secretary-general of President Kabila’s People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD), has no political constituency of his own. He is a product of PPRD and the Kabila family, since he was also close to the president’s father, the late Laurent Desire Kabila, when he was fighting to overthrow Mobotu Sese Seko.
Stephanie Wolters, head of the Division for Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis at the Institute for Security Studies said President Kabila picked somebody who will serve his interests.
“This is not somebody who is going to threaten Kabila’s family interests or challenge the manner in which power is managed in the DRC. This is not a real transfer of power, but Kabila will continue to rule by proxy,” said Ms Wolters.
His links with the Kabila family go a long way. Mr Shadary served as the Governor of Maniema between 1998, when Desire took power, until 2001 when he was assassinated. In the 2006 and 2011 elections, he was the campaign director of President Kabila in Maniema Province.
Ms Wolters said Mr Shadary is unlikely to win in a free and fair election, given that Mr Bemba running on the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo, Mr Tshisekedi of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress and Vital Kamehre of the Union for the Congolese Nation have more substantive following than him.
“If the opposition present a single candidate, then Shadary’s candidacy is a long shot in a free and fair election. However, PPRD might get some mileage since President Kabila has chosen to respect the Constitution and bow out of the race,” she said.