The Democratic Republic of Congo’s election commission has banned Jean-Pierre Bemba from running for president as the former warlord awaits the final outcome for his witness tampering case at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.
Mr Bemba, who submitted his candidacy earlier in August after returning to the central African nation after 11 years spent in exile or prison, was one of six contenders deemed ineligible following hours of deliberation.
Back in June, the ex-rebel was acquitted of war crimes committed by his Movement for the Liberation of DR Congo forces in neighbouring Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003.
The 55-year-old was one of four vice presidents in the transitional government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 2003 to 2006.
In their decision, the commission referred to the pending case in which Bemba was convicted of bribing witnesses. Under Congolese law, people convicted of corruption are unable to run for office.
Opposition parties condemned the election commission’s ruling, saying in a joint statement: “Once again the current regime is showing its determination to suppress the electoral process.”
Mr Bemba and the other rejected candidates can appeal against the decision before the final list of candidates is published on 19 September.
The announcement comes days after Congolese authorities blocked Moise Katumbi, a top opposition contender, from entering the country to register as a candidate
He vented his frustration in a scathing tweet that read: “These invalidations are unacceptable & once again show the total instrumentalisation of @cenirdc par #Kabila.”
Mr Katumbi added: “With the people, the opposition, the civil society & our partners, let us face, increase the pressure, refuse this mock election ‘kabiliste’!”
The election scheduled for 26 December will determine a successor for President Joseph Kabila, whose second and final term in office ended two years ago. The 47-year-old became president in 2001 after the assassination of his father, former president Laurent Kabila.
However, opposition leaders worry that Mr Ksbila will continue to assert his influence through the governing coalition’s chosen candidate, former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.
Eve Bazaiba, the secretary-general of Bemba’s MLC party, reacted to the news on social media, saying the fear of Mr Bemba’s candidacy “has made Kabila tremble to the point of using the electoral commission to dismiss it.”
Fights between militiamen loyal to Bemba and state forces erupted in the streets of the capital of Kinshasha after Mr Bemba lost the 2006 election to Mr Kabila and it is feared the news will trigger more violence.
Additional reporting by Associated Press
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