Congo’s two leading opposition parties withdrew from a pact to support a single presidential contender on Monday, significantly weakening efforts to defeat the ruling party candidate backed by long-time President Joseph Kabila.
The dramatic development came less than 24 hours after representatives of the Central African nation’s opposition parties announced in Geneva that they had collectively chosen Martin Fayulu Madidi to face ruling party candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary in the Dec. 23 vote.
Among the three top contenders not chosen was Felix Tshisekedi, son of the late opposition icon Etienne Tshisekedi. The elder Tshisekedi helped found the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, known as the UDPS, and led political efforts against Kabila until dying in February 2017.
Sunday’s announcement of Fayulu’s candidacy has prompted uproar in the UDPS ranks, even prompting some to set tires ablaze in the capital, Kinshasa.
“I have realized that the action we took in Geneva was not understood by the party base,” he announced on Top Congo FM radio Monday evening. “As a result I am removing my signature in the name of UDPS from this agreement we have signed in Geneva.”
Fayulu, a 62-year-old legislator, had supported Etienne Tshisekedi in the 2011 presidential election.
Another prominent opposition party, the UNC led by Vital Kamerhe, also said it was withdrawing from the pact.
The moves mark a serious setback for opposition efforts to unify before the election.
Kabila has been in power since 2001 and his mandate expired in late 2016. But he has remained in office while organizing elections, a move his critics say was aimed at maintaining his grip on power.