Congo-Kinshasa: Congo Rejects Ex-Warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba's Presidential Bid

Jean Pierre Bemba.

Jean-Pierre Bemba, Congo's former warlord and seen as one of the front-runners to succeed incumbent Joseph Kabila in December's presidential election, has been excluded from the list of approved electoral candidates.

Congo's election commission has excluded opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba and three former prime ministers from the list of approved candidates for December's presidential election.

Bemba, a former warlord, returned to the capital, Kinshasa, earlier this month to submit his candidacy for president after a decade in prison in The Hague for war crimes. He had been seen as one of the front-runners in the race to succeed incumbent Joseph Kabila.

The commission said that a separate International Criminal Court conviction for witness tampering was the reason Bemba was left off the list.

Bemba was acquitted earlier this year on appeal at the International Criminal Court of war crimes and crimes against humanity for murder, rape and pillage committed by fighters he sent to Central African Republic in 2002.

His witness tampering conviction however, still stands.

The election commission's decision was condemned by opposition parties and can be appealed before the final list is published in September.

"Once again the current regime is showing its determination to suppress the electoral process," they said in a joint statement before the commission published the list on Friday.

Kabila likely to stay involved in politics

Last month, in a rare public opinion poll on the likely outcome of the election, Bemba placed third with 17 percent support.

He is popular in western Congoand in Kinshasa, and being left off the ballot could trigger a violent reaction by his supporters. Street battles between militiamen loyal to Bemba and state forces broke out in Kinshasa after he lost the 2006 election to Kabila.

After years of speculation, Kabila agreed earlier this month to obey the two-term limit imposed by the constitution and not put his name in the poll set for December 23. He has chosen former Interior Minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, who has been placed under EU sanctions, to stand instead.

The choice of Shadary, a die-hard loyalist, suggests Kabila - who came to power after his father's assassination in 2001 - intends to remain closely involved in national politics. He will be eligible to run again in 2023.

Among the six candidates also excluded from the commission's list are former prime ministers Adolphe Muzito, Antoine Gizenga and Samy Badibanga.

av/cmk (AFP, Reuters)

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