DR Congo bans Jean-Pierre Bemba from presidency

Former Congolese Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba, a top opposition figure, has been definitively barred as a presidential candidate in December’s long-delayed election.

Jean-Pierre Bemba

The DR Congo’s Constitutional Court late Monday backed the electoral commission’s decision that Bemba cannot run because of a pending case at the International Criminal Court.

Bemba became a surprise contender after ICC appeals judges in June acquitted him of war crimes committed by his Movement for the Liberation of Congo forces in neighboring Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003. He returned to Congo last month after more than a decade away.

The electoral commission, however, pointed out the pending case in which he was convicted of interfering with witnesses, calling it synonymous with corruption. Congolese law prevents people convicted of corruption from running for the presidency.

Opposition parties accuse President Joseph Kabila’s government of blocking some top candidates from running. Congolese authorities blocked another top opposition contender, Moise Katumbi, from entering the country to register as a candidate.

Felix Tshisekedi, the candidate for Congo’s largest opposition party, remains eligible to run.

Kabila after almost two years of speculation and unrest has said he will step aside but chose a candidate for a recently formed coalition, and the opposition worries he will continue to assert his influence even as one of Africa’s most turbulent nations faces what could be its first peaceful, democratic transfer of power.

The opposition is up against Kabila’s chosen candidate, former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary with the new Common Front for Congo coalition. He is among nine Congolese sanctioned by the European Union last year for obstructing the electoral process and related human rights violations.

The final list of presidential candidates is expected on September 19. The Constitutional Court upheld the invalidation of former Prime Minister Adolphe Muzito but said another former prime minister, Samy Badibanga, accused of having a second nationality, can run.

Whoever wins the December vote takes over a vast country with trillions of dollars’ worth of mineral wealth but with dozens of armed groups battling for a part of it. Millions of Congolese have been displaced by various internal conflicts.