KINSHASA (Reuters) - A leading Congolese politician said he does not need alliances to win this year’s election — striking a possible blow at attempts by other opposition leaders to unify against President Joseph Kabila.
Etienne Tshisekedi told Reuters in an interview on Saturday that he is determined to stand and dismissed suggestions made by another leading politician, Vital Kamerhe, that the opposition should hold primaries to choose who runs.
“When I put forward my name as a candidate it was as the president of my party, the UDPS. And I believe I’m capable of doing that at the elections without necessarily making a coalition with other candidates,” he said.
The Democratic Republic of Congo’s historically divided opposition is expected to rethink strategy after the government forced through constitutional reforms reducing the presidential vote to one round, removing the danger for Kabila that his opponents could rally behind a single candidate in a run-off.
Some observers say the reforms were prompted by Tshisekedi’s surprise return to the country in December after years of medical treatment in Belgium. He was greeted by hundreds of thousands of supporters in the country’s chaotic and strongly anti-Kabila capital, Kinshasa.
Tshisekedi said he remained confident that he could win in a single round despite most observers saying Kabila remains the favourite to be re-elected, but that he would welcome the support of other opposition parties.
The UDPS is in contact with other political parties, but no formal negotiations have taken place, he said.
The 78-year-old, a veteran of the Congolese political scene and a former prime minister under late autocrat Mobutu Sese Seko, said his medical problems, which he refused to specify, were no longer an issue, insisting he was in excellent health.
But Tshisekedi said that if he were to be elected it would only be for one term. “I have fought for 30 years for the rule of law (in Congo), I think one term will be sufficient (to put that in place),” he added.
He strongly criticised the government on a number of issues, including Kabila’s desire for U.N. peacekeepers to be withdrawn by the end of this year from the vast central African country.
Kinshasa’s relations with the United Nations, which retains a 17,000-strong force in the country, have become increasingly strained in recent months even as U.N. troops continue to carry out operations jointly with Congolese troops in the east of the country to stamp out armed bands that terrorise local residents.
“We are for the U.N. staying here until their presence is no longer necessary,” Tshisekedi said.
He also vowed to improve the country’s business climate, an issue of growing concern for international investors following a recent government review of mining contracts that saw Canadian company First Quantum stripped of its concession, a matter that has now been taken to international arbitration.
“If a company comes to Congo and is the victim of the government signing a contract and then arbitrarily snatching it back, they should know that they can go to court here and get justice,” Tshisekedi said.
Congo, trying to rebuild after decades of corrupt misrule and wars that killed millions of people, has been governed by Joseph Kabila since 2001, when he came to power following the assassination of his father, Laurent.
He then won the country’s first ever democratic elections in 2006, which Tshisekedi boycotted, in a process marred by political violence that killed over 300 people in Kinshasa.
Kabila’s supporters say he has brought a degree of stability to the country and attracted foreign investors keen to exploit massive Congolese mineral wealth. His critics say he has failed to tackle corruption or end bloody conflict in the east.