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Katumbi and Fayulu lead opposition field ahead of 20 December polls

Fears about the fairness of presidential polls are pushing demands for a unity candidate

Former Katanga governor and mining mogul Moïse Katumbi and Martin Fayulu are emerging as the most viable challengers to President Félix Tshisekedi in elections due on 20 December.

But opposition strategists fear they need to unite behind a single candidate to have the best chance of stopping Tshisekedi from getting over 50% in the first round (AC Vol 64 No 20, Oppositionists vie for the presidency).

In the 2018 presidential elections, data leaks from the state's electoral commission pointed to an overwhelming victory by Fayulu. Africa Confidential reported that, according to the commission's leaked data, Fayulu beat Tshisekedi by over 5 million votes (AC Vol 60 No 2, Data leak exposes plot to steal presidential vote).

But outgoing President Joseph Kabila, who feared that Fayulu would investigate his extensive and opaque business dealings, cut a backroom deal to hand the Presidency to Tshisekedi. Katumbi, who was excluded from the 2018 election, backed Fayulu.

Security conditions in the eastern provinces are deteriorating following the partial withdrawal of the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) which has been fighting the M23 militia group. Last week the European Union cancelled its election observation mission, saying the clashes in the east meant it would not be able to deploy people across the country. It had already sent monitors to Kinshasa.

The EU officials added that the Congolese authorities had refused to allow election monitors to use their satellite communications equipment. That reinforced concerns about the electoral commission's neutrality.

Opposition leaders have been banned from protesting outside the electoral commission's offices (Dispatches 13/9/23, Violence in the east is escalating and threatening the elections). Talks between leading opposition candidates were held in mid-November in Pretoria but ended without agreement.

Seth Kikuni, Franck Diongo and former Prime Minister Matata Ponyo have since withdrawn from the race in recent weeks and endorsed Katumbi. But Fayulu and the Nobel Prize winning doctor Denis Mukwege remain among the 20 candidates still officially registered.

Katumbi has been campaigning in Bukavu and Maniema in eastern Congo, the strongholds of Tshisekedi ally Vital Kamerhe and Ponyo respectively. So far he has been running the most ambitious and best-financed campaign.

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