As opposition parties scramble to unite behind a single candidate ahead of the November 28 presidential election, Jean-Pierre Bemba may play kingmaker by throwing his support behind one of the leading candidates, even as he sits in prison at the International Criminal Court on trial for alleged war crimes committed by his troops in the Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003.
The former DR Congo Vice-President, who lost the second round of the 2006 presidential elections to President Joseph Kabila, remains a political force to be reckoned with. His support is actively being sought by opposition candidates running for president in this year’s one-round presidential election.
After his arrest in 2008, Mr. Bemba’s party, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), remained the main opposition party in the country. This year, it has been plagued by infighting and outpaced by Mr. Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) since his return last December after a three-year absence.
Etienne Tshisekedi and Kengo wa Dondo visited Bemba this week at the ICC detention centre in Scheveningen, near the Hague. Mr. Tshisekedi said that he met Bemba to talk about the “common candidacy of the opposition.” Mr. Kengo proudly said “I have already met Bemba twice.”
The MLC has so far aligned itself with a group of opposition parties led by former Speaker of the National Assembly Vital Kamerhe and the current President of the Senate, Kengo wa Dondo.
Both Mr. Kamerhe and Mr. Kengo have registered as candidates in the November presidential election but still insist that there is still time for the opposition to unite against President Kabila, a formidable opponent, who will have ample resources for his campaign and would most likely benefit from facing a divided opposition with limited resources.
Mr. Tshisekedi has said that he is the opposition candidate most likely to defeat President Kabila. He has called on the other candidates to unite behind him. He is being supported by a larger group of opposition parties, but not the three main parties led by Bemba (MLC), Kamerhe (UNC) and Kengo (UFC).
After meeting with Bemba, Tshisekedi and Kengo met in Bruxelles on Thursday. They both said that negotiations will continue to find a consensus opposition candidate. Kamerhe also said recently that the opposition was “moving towards” supporting one candidate.
Analysts say that if Bemba were to switch his support to Tshisekedi, Kamerhe and Kengo would be under increased pressure to drop their bids and support the leader of the UDPS.