Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila will not stand in December’s presidential election, a spokesman said on Wednesday, announcing that former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary would be the ruling coalition’s candidate.
The announcement by spokesman Lambert Mende at a news conference puts an end to years of speculation about whether Kabila would defy term limits to run for a third term.
Kabila was due to step down in 2016 at the end of his constitutional mandate but the election to replace him was repeatedly delayed. That sparked protests in which the military and police killed dozens of people. Militia violence also rose in the country’s volatile eastern borderlands.
Kabila’s political allies had floated various legal arguments they said would justify his running again but he came under strong pressure from regional allies like Angola as well as the United States and EU to stand down.
The selection of Ramazani is, however, a defiant move by Kabila. A former interior minister, he is under European Union sanctions for alleged human rights abuses, including deadly crackdowns by security forces on protesters.
“We are all going to align behind (him),” Mende said. “It is Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, permanent secretary of the (ruling) PPRD.”
His choice of a die hard loyalist suggests that Kabila, who came to power after his father’s assassination in 2001, will remain closely involved in national politics after bowing out.
Kabila will remain at the head of his People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) and has installed loyalists across the federal bureaucracy, including in the courts and in the military.
But the announcement that he will not run again will ease fears in the region and beyond that a Kabila candidacy would drag the country back into the civil wars of the turn of the century in which millions died, mostly from hunger and disease.
The Dec. 23 vote should now herald Congo’s first democratic transition of power following decades marked by authoritarian rule, coups and deadly conflict.
Mende said that Ramazani was on his way to the electoral commission headquarters in the capital Kinshasa to file his candidacy.
Several opposition candidates, including former vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba and the president of Congo’s largest opposition party, Felix Tshisekedi, have also registered to run.
They fear that the goodwill Kabila could earn from not seeking a new term could make it easier for his coalition to cheat. They say voter rolls are unreliable and are suspicious of electronic voting machines due to be used for the first time.
A nationwide opinion poll last month showed opposition candidates collecting a significant majority of the vote with potential candidates from the ruling coalition trailing far behind.