November 11, 2018 / 5:39 PM / 5 months ago

Congo opposition picks Martin Fayulu as its presidential candidate

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Congo’s opposition coalition picked businessman and lawmaker Martin Fayulu to be its candidate in a December presidential election, it said in a statement.

Fayulu will face President Joseph Kabila’s preferred successor for the ruling party, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadari, in Democratic Republic of Congo’s election on Dec. 23.

Kabila has been in power since his father died in 2001 but he and the ruling party are unpopular especially in the west and the capital Kinshasa.

Up until now, a weak and divided opposition has failed to capitalise on that unpopularity but picking a unified candidate at least gives the opposition someone to rally around.

Fayulu won the nomination over Felix Tshisekedi, the president of Congo’s largest opposition party.

“The Congolese people need a leader who will go with them to achieve development, to reach prosperity,” Fayulu told a news conference in Geneva. “We are committed to reach these goals, so that Congo can no longer be the laughing stock of the world.”

Kabila surprised a lot of Congolese when he agreed to step aside in August, which would make December’s election, if it goes ahead, Congo’s first peaceful change of power since independence from Belgium in 1960.

An opinion poll in July, before Kabila came out to back Ramazani, showed opposition leaders were favoured by about 70 percent of voters, but the ruling party enjoys significant financial and institutional advantages.

Several prominent opposition leaders, including former vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba and millionaire businessman Moise Katumbi, were barred by authorities from running, decisions the opposition said are politically motivated.

Fayulu said he had significant support and that Bemba’s backing would also boost his voter base. The opposition also accuses the government of planning to rig the election, using new electronic voting machines imported from South Korea that are ill suited to Congo’s huge logistical and energy challenges. The government denies that charge.

“I will lead this fight ... for free, democratic, inclusive, transparent elections, because the Congolese people need a leader that they themselves have chosen,” Fayulu said.

Additional reporting by Marina Depetris in Geneva; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg

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