The future of a proposed power-sharing deal in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been thrown into doubt by the death of longtime opposition figure Etienne Tshisekedi. The 84-year-old died in Brussels on Wednesday, as talks aiming to end the nation's political crisis were under way in Kinshasa.
Tshisekedi's death is bound to add pressure on the already tense political situation in the DRC.
The death of the country's main opposition figure comes as hopes had been raised that the ongoing political turmoil might be alleviated by the New Year's Eve deal.
"This plays into the hands of [President Joseph] Kabila and his coalition, in that talks are stalled and what Tshisekedi represented was a credible, unifying figure for the opposition and one that was tipped to oversee the transitional 'council' for the transition of power," according to Alex Fielding, an African affairs analyst.
"So this is not a good day for Congolese democracy, in that it will give greater impetus for Kabila to keep stalling and it will also provide the opposition with a major challenge in unifying behind another figure."
In addition to that, Tshisekedi was supposed to have a major role in the transitional government planned in the deal.
"Tshisekedi was nominated as the prime minister in that new agreement. His party have said today that Tshisekedi's son, Felix, should be appointed to the position of prime minister within the transitional government but Kabila also has not signed off on Felix's appointment," says Phil Clark from Soas in London.
"So not only is there not a transitional government currently in place, it is also not entirely clear who the prime minister is going to be looking ahead. So this is a very uncertain, very unstable situation, but this is the kind of situation that, historically, Kabila has always manipulated to his own advantage."
The main question today is how much Tshisekedi's death will affect the upcoming elections.
Problems face peace deal
There are several things to take into account.
First, the New Year's Eve deal that was agreed on has not been signed yet and Kabila's side could argue that because Tshisekedi has died, it could become null and void.
Phil Clark says it was clear from the beginning that Kabila was going to drag his heels on this deal.
"Tshisekedi was a very important voice pressuring Kabila to stick to this election timetable and particularly to try and organise the elections well and to hold them at the end of 2017. So Tshisekedi's death takes the pressure off Kabila a little bit, to stick to the timetable," says Clark.
"But, of course, it will also affect the elections because it will greatly weaken the opposition and the opposition's ability to put up a candidate who could in fact win that election at the end of 2017. And this creates a vacuum that Kabila might try to capitalise on, this may in fact encourage Kabila to run for a third term because he knows that the opposition is weak. It will increase his ability to rig the elections to his favour and and so it may embolden Kabila in the race for the presidency."
Who can step into Tshisekedi's shoes?
There are several people who could be up to the challenge of succeeding Tshisekedi. But one has to bear in mind that the veteran politician has been the main opposition figure for decades, and it might be tough for his successor to gain as much credibility and strength in the short period before the elections.
But some politicians are ready to take over.
"Congo does not lack heroes or leaders," says Vava Tampa, a political and human rights activist from a group called Save the Congo.
"There are many peeple who will try and do as much as he did, one of those figures - top of my head - is Martin Fayulu. I think he has a lot of potential.
"Another credible figure which we need to bear in mind is Moïse Katumbi. He would be able to do amazing things. So there are a lot of people, but no one, absolutely no one could replace Tshisekedi, he was the only one, the only remaining political figure in Congolese history who could summon Congolese from every corner of the country, and essentially lead a mass revolution and no one can do what Tshisekedi could."
One thing is certain, Tshisekedi's death is going to cast a shadow over a vital election contest.