Elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo will ostensibly bring the curtain down on the era of President Joseph Kabila, in charge of the resource-rich nation for 18 years.
If elections successfully take place on Sunday, it would mark the first peaceful transition of power in the DRC’s post-colonial history.
But many analysts doubt Kabila will quit politics.
They predict he will wield influence behind the scenes — a tactic likely to be emulated by two rivals, ex-rebel Jean-Pierre Bemba and Moise Katumbi, exiled former governor of Katanga province.
Kabila took power at the age of 29 after his president father, Laurent-Desire, was assassinated in 2001.
If Sunday’s thrice-postponed vote goes according to plan, Kabila will step down, taking up the senator-for-life position offered to former presidents.
Kabila has been vague about his future but, aged only 47, seems to have no plans to shuffle off into retirement.
He said his political future might be clearer in 2023 — the year the country is set to hold its next presidential polls.
Critics say Kabila plans to have the seat kept warm for him by his successor, former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, one of the front-runners.
Former militia leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, 56, has been a fixture in DRC’s political landscape, and a rival to the Kabila clan, for years.
He was once an assistant to Mobutu Sese Seko, but left the country after Kabila’s father overthrew the dictator in 1997.
In 1998, he formed his Movement for the Liberation of the Congo militia in armed opposition to Kabila senior.
He became vice-president in an interim government in 2003, but in 2006 was defeated by Kabila junior in an election bid. He was elected to the Senate the following year.
Bemba has a major power base, especially in the northwestern DRC.
Like Katumbi, he has backed Martin Fulyani, a former oil executive, as a rival candidate to the pro-Kabila Shadary.
Millionaire businessman Moise Katumbi has also been barred from contesting the election.
But the 53-year-old can still count on wielding influence on the DRC’s future through his backing for Fulyani.
After falling out with Kabila, Katumbi has been living in self-imposed exile in Belgium, the former colonial power, since May 2016. He was handed a three-year sentence for property fraud. — AFP