Meetings, interviews, rallies... Campaigning for the December 20 presidential election in the Democratic Republic of Congo is in full swing, with 23 candidates, including incumbent President Félix Tshisekedi, running. Initially, 26 candidates were registered for this presidential election, which will be coupled with legislative, provincial and municipal elections.

What are the main issues at stake in this election? Vincent Hugeux, freelance journalist, essayist, teacher and author of "Tyrants of Africa - The Mysteries of Postcolonial Despotism" (Perrin editions, 2021) gives us some answers.

  • A first-past-the-post election

Since 2011, the voting system in Congo has been a one-round system: the president is elected by a simple majority of the votes cast. Vincent Hugeux questions this voting method, which he defines as an "electoral diversion". According to him, the first-past-the-post election favours incumbents, such as Félix Tshisekedi, who faces a fragmented opposition.

"It would be enough for Félix Tshisekedi to win 20% of the vote to be elected, provided that his closest challenger only gets 18%," the journalist said. "In my opinion, this is a denial of democracy. You can be perfectly in the minority and win!"

Read alsoCandidates, logistics, calendar... What you need to know about Congo's general elections

  • A fragmented opposition

Faced with the outgoing president, the opposition is trying to come together to be stronger. In recent days, Moïse Katumbi, former governor of Katanga, has won the support of three opponents of Félix Tshisekedi. Despite these withdrawals, there are still 23 candidates in the running.

"Even if the number of candidates decreases as the election approaches, it is unlikely that the opposition will be able to unite around one or two candidates," Hugeux said.

According to the journalist, opposition leader Martin Fayulu, who came second in the previous election, will persist. "Martin Fayulu sees himself as the real winner of the 2018 presidential election. It's clear that he won't give up."

Moïse Katumbi and Dr. Denis Mukwege are two other strong opponents. The former has significant resources to carry out his campaign. The second, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018, is a respected figure in the country. "I don't see how one or the other of these candidates could withdraw," Hugeux said.

"The fragility of any adversity in this area lies in this diversity of candidates," he concluded.

Read alsoPresidential election in DR Congo: what are the chances of Nobel Peace Prize winner Denis Mukwege?

  • Violence in the east

Security in eastern DRC remains a major issue in these elections. After six months of relative calm, heavy fighting resumed in early October between the M23 rebels and the army allied with so-called "patriotic" armed groups. As a result, President Felix Tshisekedi announced in mid-November on France 24 and RFI, that these elections could not take place in the territories of Masisi and Rutshuru (North Kivu) - where the M23, supported by neighboring Rwanda, operates.

Since the resumption of fighting, more than 450,000 people have been added to the displaced people already living around Goma, according to the United Nations. Faced with this situation, candidates are making a series of announcements. Opposition leader Moïse Katumbi, for example, has promised to "create a special fund for North Kivu and Ituri of 5 billion US dollars" if elected.

These announcements do not surprise Vincent Hugeux: "No candidate worthy of trust or interest can ignore the fate of the several million of his compatriots, even if they are excluded from the electoral rolls."

"Now it's time to take action!" the journalist continued. "For decades, candidates have made similar promises. For the time being, we have to admit that disappointment prevails with regard to the political performance of successive presidents."

Indeed, violence by armed groups has been going on for nearly 30 years in eastern DRC. Tshisekedi's government recently decided not to renew the mandate of a regional force deployed in the east to fight the M8 beyond 23 December, accusing it of failing to force the rebels to lay down their arms.

Read alsoWhat are the main armed groups active in eastern DR Congo?

Rich in natural resources, DR Congo is also a vast country that is difficult to control, says Vincent Hugueux. "This led to a war at the turn of the century [the Second Congo War, 1998-2003], in which nine neighbouring countries were involved. In this context, it is extremely difficult to eradicate a movement, even with the help of mercenaries," he said, referring to "several hundred mercenaries recruited and two private military companies to support the FARDC (Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo)."

Meanwhile, the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), which has been in the DRC since 1999, said on Wednesday that it had signed a plan with the government to withdraw its 14,000 peacekeepers deployed in the country, mainly in the east. "We are also moving towards a rather paradoxical disengagement, given the electrical nature of the situation, of this UN force. It is going to be very difficult to predict a lasting and irreversible appeasement in this region," the journalist concluded.

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