DRC opposition chief says quitting joint candidate deal

Seven opposition leaders, meeting in Geneva on Sunday, picked little-known MP Martin Fayulu as their joint candidate in the December 23 vote to succeed President Joseph Kabila, in power for 18 years.

UDPS opposition party leader Felix Tshisekedi looks at supporters during a rally in Kinshasa on 24 April 2018, the first opposition rally authorised since September 2016. Picture: AFP.

KINSASHA - The head of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)'s biggest opposition party, Felix Tshisekedi, said Monday he was abandoning a day-old agreement to field a joint opposition candidate in next month's presidential elections.

"I gather that the agreement reached in Geneva was not accepted by the grassroots and was rejected by them. As a result, I am withdrawing my signature from this agreement, which we signed yesterday," Tshisekedi said in an interview with the radio station Top Congo.

He spoke shortly after the secretary general of his party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), gave him 48 hours to row back from the decision in the face of protests by activists.

Seven opposition leaders, meeting in Geneva on Sunday, picked little-known MP Martin Fayulu as their joint candidate in the December 23 vote to succeed President Joseph Kabila, in power for 18 years.

The elections are critical for the future of the DRC, a sprawling, mineral-rich country that has never known a peaceful transition of power since independence from Belgium in 1960.

The ballot has 21 candidates, but only four of them are from the opposition.

The opposition leaders sought to choose a unity candidate to boost their chances of winning against hardliner Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, a former interior minister hand-picked by Kabila who is unable to seek a new term because of constitutional limits.

A 61-year-old former oil executive educated in the US and France, Fayulu gained prominence for his role in marches opposing Kabila after he remained in power beyond his constitutional term.

Tshisekedi was defensive about his decision to back Fayulu but did not say whether he intended to maintain his own candidacy for the elections.

"If I went to Geneva, it was with the approval of the grassroots," he said.

"It's not a personal initiative, but a desire from the grassroots and the public to nominate a joint opposition candidate."

The UDPS is the oldest and biggest opposition party in the DRC.

It was co-founded in 1982 by Tshisekedi's popular father, Etienne Tshisekedi, who died in February 2017.

In March this year, Tshisekedi was elected party leader and the UDPS's election candidate by 90% of votes cast.