Former Congolese warlord and vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba believes he would be the best candidate to represent the opposition in December’s presidential election but was open to supporting another candidate.
In his first in-depth public remarks since being acquitted in May on appeal for war crimes at The Hague, Bemba told a news conference in Brussels standing for president was not an obsession but touted his experience and leadership qualities.
Candidate registration is due to open on Wednesday. President Joseph Kabila, governing since 2001, is barred by term limits from running but refused to commit publicly to not standing.
That and rising militia violence in Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern borderlands raised fears the country could be dragged back to the civil wars of the turn of the century that killed millions, most from hunger and disease.
Kabila’s opponents struggled to coalesce behind a single standard bearer for the election and Bemba’s release from prison and planned return to Congo next week muddied the waters even further.
Asked why he should be the sole opposition candidate, Bemba cited his “experience, management of men, management of security, of the army and also of economic development”.
“It is not an obsession. It is so that we, the opposition, can win and do everything so a candidate from the opposition can win by presenting a programme that is credible for the population.”
Bemba, popular in western Congo, finished runner-up to Kabila in the 2006 election, which touched off days of combat in Kinshasa between militia fighters loyal to him and state troops.
He was arrested in Europe in 2008 and charged with responsibility for murder, rape and pillage committed by fighters he sent to Central African Republic in 2002 to back then-president Ange-Felix Patasse.
The International Criminal Court convicted him in 2016 but an appeals court ruled in May he could not be held personally responsible for his fighters’ actions.
Bemba would meet with opposition leaders on arrival in Kinshasa on August 1. Apart from Bemba, opposition leaders Moise Katumbi, Felix Tshisekedi, Martin Fayulu and Vital Kamerhe have been nominated to run for president.