Little known outside Democratic Republic of Congo power circles, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary is a key ally of President Joseph Kabila and, critics suspect, likely to be his puppet if victorious in Sunday's election.Often dressed in a smart suit and tie, the 58-year-old, who is one of the frontrunners, served as interior minister during a period marked by violent crackdowns on demonstrators protesting against Kabila's efforts to cling onto power beyond his constitutional mandate at the end of 2016.Over the past two years, government security forces have repeatedly attacked and killed civilians across the country, according to Human Rights Watch.It was this violence which prompted the European Union to impose sanctions on Shadary and other senior officials in May 2017 for serious human rights violations, freezing their assets and banning them from travel in EU nations.Despite being blacklisted, his loyalty had earned him the trust of his boss.On August 8, after 17 years in office, Kabila signalled he would step aside, naming Shadary as his successor.Even though the 47-year-old strongman is finally standing down, the opposition fears he is simply plotting to remain the power behind the throne.Kabila will "almost certainly remain the string-puller behind the scenes," said Indigo Ellis from risk analysis company Verisk Maplecroft."At least initially, with Shadary as a figurehead president." Beginnings in opposition Married with eight children, Shadary initially entered the complex web of Congolese politics as a member of the UDPS, DRC's oldest and biggest opposition party.In 1997, after the fall of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, he was elected vice-governor of Maniema province and a year later, he became governor. After Kabila took power in 2001 following the assassination of his father, Shadary went on to help him found the People's Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) a year later. The party remains in power today.He was elected to parliament in 2006, and five years later, he became leader of the parliamentary faction, a position he held until 2016. He is currently the PPRD's permanent secretary.Crucially for Kabila, throughout waves of anti-government protests in which hundreds of opposition supporters have been jailed or killed, demonstrations banned and media outlets shutdown, Shadary has offered loyal support.Despite Kabila's troubled tenure, which has been blighted by conflict and corruption, Shadary has described him as "an exceptional man in Africa and even throughout the world".Kabila's man For Kabila, searching for an insider who he could trust, Shadary ticked all the boxes.* Sign up to News24's top Africa news in your inbox: SUBSCRIBE TO THE HELLO AFRICA NEWSLETTERFOLLOW News24 Africa on Twitter and Facebook. "Shadary has no special qualities other than absolute loyalty to the current head of state," an analyst at a political NGO based in Kinshasa told AFP on condition of anonymity.Described by family members as a "fervent Catholic", Shadary launched his campaign at a mass in Kinshasa cathedral.Tall and with an easy smile, he speaks Swahili and Lingala, the two languages spoken respectively in eastern and western DRC.On the campaign trail he has bantered in local slang, told jokes, and declared his loyalty to the president.By choosing a close ally who is under European sanctions, Kabila has essentially signalled that loyalty prevailed above all other criteria.Within DRC, Shadary is not widely known, with his political base in Maniema, a small artisanal mining province in the east.Described in his official biography as "the man you need for difficult times", Shadary is sure to be put to the test if he is elected the country's next president.