KINSHASA, DR Congo: The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) embarks on a month-long election campaign with 26 presidential candidates amid a charged political atmosphere and ongoing conflict in the eastern part of the country. Nearly 44 million registered voters, out of a population close to 100 million, are set to cast their ballots on December 20, choosing not only the president but also from tens of thousands of candidates for legislative and local bodies.
A “pre-campaign” period has preceded the official launch, with President Felix Tshisekedi, seeking a second term, participating in various public events. As the official campaign kicks off, rallies, media appearances, giant posters, and the distribution of flyers become part of the political landscape.
On the opening day, President Tshisekedi is scheduled to hold a rally in Kinshasa’s Martyrs stadium, while one of his main rivals, Martin Fayulu, addresses a rally in a nearby province. Tshisekedi emphasizes a return to calm in the face of renewed violence in the east, pledging improvements in services, the economy, infrastructure, and a commitment to freedom of speech and the press.
Despite challenges, including the logistical complexities of organizing voting across the vast country, political will remains to adhere to the electoral calendar. However, doubts persist about the technical feasibility, according to Tresor Kibangula, a political analyst at the Ebuteli research institute.
The eastern part of the country has witnessed prolonged conflict, with recent surges in violence as the M23 group, backed by Rwanda, occupied parts of Nord Kivu province. Normal voting faces disruptions in two territories due to the ongoing fighting, and the threat looms larger if rebels take the provincial capital, Goma.
Main opposition candidates, including Martin Fayulu, Moise Katumbi, Denis Mukwege, and two former prime ministers, challenge Tshisekedi. Fayulu, who claims victory was stolen from him in 2018, warns of potential massive fraud. While Tshisekedi is considered the favored incumbent, opposition groups explore the possibility of presenting a unified candidate.
Voters’ sentiments vary, with some expressing optimism about voting for the first time, while others, disillusioned by past fraud allegations, question the value of participating in the electoral process.