DR Congo’s Bemba warns of chaos if upcoming elections aren’t fair

A top Congo opposition figure who is barred from December’s presidential election is warning that “chaos” will follow if the vote is not transparent and fair.

Former Congolese Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba spoke to The Associated Press on Tuesday, days before his sentencing at the International Criminal Court after being convicted of interfering with witnesses.

Congo’s electoral commission rejected him as a candidate in the December 23 election, calling the witness interference synonymous with corruption. Congolese law prevents people convicted of corruption from running for the presidency.

Bemba accused both the commission and the Constitutional Court, which last week upheld the commission’s decision, of being under “full control” of the government of President Joseph Kabila, who after two years of deadly unrest amid the long-delayed election has said he will step aside.

“They just exclude me. They used the court to exclude me, they made a big confusion,” said Bemba, whose father was close to former longtime leader Mobutu Sese Seko and who finished second to Kabila in the 2006 election.

Bemba also said he expects Congo’s opposition to rally behind a joint candidate to challenge Kabila’s preferred one but did not say who it should be: “I don’t know, frankly.” He has said it would have been him.

Bemba did not directly answer the question of whether he is out of the race for good.

He warned that the December election “will not be fair and credible if we don’t do something to re-establish the credibility of the process,” and he said that “today is another kind of struggle, that we need to restore democracy.”

Whoever wins the Dec. 23 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.

Bemba became a surprise presidential 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 then returned to Congo, where he remains a senator, after more than a decade away.

“Bitter, not at all,” he said of his decade away. “Of course the last 10 years was an opportunity to think about my country.” Congo’s situation is worse than when he left, he said.