Seven opposition leaders from the Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday picked little known lawmaker Martin Fayulu as their joint candidate for key and long delayed presidential elections at the end of December when Joseph Kabila stands down after ruling the country for 18 years.
Fayulu, the leader of the Engagement for Citizenship and Development party, will stand against Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, a hardline former interior minister backed by Kabila in the December 23 vote, a statement said after three days of gruelling talks in Geneva.
The elections are critical for the future of the DRC, a sprawling, mineral-rich country that has never experienced a peaceful transition of power since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960.
The opposition leaders meeting in the Swiss city included two heavyweights in former warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba and ex-provincial governor Moise Katumbi. Both have been barred from standing in the poll.
“I’m sure we will succeed in making our country democratic, free and independent,” Fayulu told a news conference after the vote.
“I am only a spokesman for the fight for freedom and democracy,” he said.
Three others besides the 61-year-old Fayulu had been authorised to contest the poll: Felix Tshisekedi, head of the long-standing UDPS opposition party; Vital Kamerhe, a former National Assembly speaker; and former finance minister Freddy Matungulu.
The choice was a surprise development with Tshisekedi widely regarded as the front runner before the announcement.
Fayulu, a hotelier and former oil executive educated in the United States and France, hails from the Lingala-speaking west of the country and was first elected to parliament in 2006.
In recent years he was routinely seen at the front of marches against Kabila extending his rule beyond constitutional limits.
Kabila, 47, has been in power since 2001 at the helm of a regime with a reputation for corruption, incompetence and human rights abuses.
His second and final elected term in office ended nearly two years ago, but he stayed in office thanks to a caretaker clause in the constitution.
Months of speculation over his intentions, marked by protests that were repressed at a cost of dozens of lives, ended in August when he threw his weight behind Ramazani Shadary.
On October 25, opposition parties agreed in Johannesburg to name a joint candidate by November 15.
One of the issues dividing the opposition is the introduction of South Korean electronic voting machines which some say will be used to rig the vote.
Fayulu had said he would not contest if these machines were used, in contrast to Tshisekedi who had said he was willing to take part in the vote even if they were.
After Sunday’s announcement Fayulu — when questioned about this — said the opposition would “work relentlessly to seek the scrapping” of the machines.
“The battle continues, we want an election without voting machines,” he said.
The opposition said a rally would be organised soon in Kinshasa to present their candidate.