The Constitutional Court of the Democratic Republic of Congo has upheld the decision of the electoral commission to disqualify former Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba, a top opposition figure, from the overdue December Presidential election.
Congo’s Constitutional Court backed the electoral commission’s decision that Bemba cannot run because of a conviction for interfering with witnesses at the International Criminal Court.
Bemba became a surprise contender after the ICC appeal judges in June, acquitted him of war crimes committed by his Movement for the Liberation of Congo forces in neighbouring 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 case in which he awaits sentencing after being convicted of interfering with witnesses, calling it synonymous with corruption. Congolese law prevents people convicted of corruption from running for the presidency.
In appealing to the Constitutional Court, Bemba’s party had urged it to do the right thing and allow him to run “despite evident political pressures.” Bemba earlier noted that six major opposition parties had been discussing a possible joint candidate and that the electoral commission rejected him because “it was likely that I would be the candidate.”
Opposition parties have accused 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. Bernama