DRC's Tshisekedi: son, heir and presidential candidate

2018-12-17 19:10
Felix Tshisekedi (File: AFP)

Felix Tshisekedi (File: AFP)

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As the son of Democratic Republic of Congo's veteran opposition leader, Felix Tshisekedi is hoping that the December 23 elections will hand him the prize that eluded his late father - the presidency.

He goes into the election as head of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), a party founded by his father Etienne who spent decades as the country's main opposition leader but died in February last year.

Taking over his role at the head of the country's oldest and largest opposition party, Tshisekedi junior is now hoping to make the great leap from political opponent to president.

Known to his friends as "Fatshi", the portly 55-year-old is hoping to win enough support to replace President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled the volatile, poverty-stricken nation with an iron fist since 2001.

But for a while, it looked like he wouldn't even be on the ballot.

 Pentecostal rivals 

On November 11, Tshisekedi joined six other opposition leaders to rally behind a single unity candidate, Martin Fayulu, to take on Kabila's handpicked successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.

But the deal drew a furious response from his supporters, prompting him and fellow opposition leader Vital Kamerhe to abandon the deal and run on a joint ticket, effectively weakening and splitting the opposition.

If they succeed, Tshisekedi will become president with Kamerhe as his prime minister.

Since his father founded the UDPS in 1982, the party has served as an opposition mainstay in the former Belgian colony - first under dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, then under Kabila's father Laurent-Desire Kabila, who ruled from 1997 until his death in 2001.

A father of five, Tshisekedi goes to the same Pentecostal church as Fayulu in Kinshasa, the capital.

Though rivals, both men are now fighting to see off Shadary, a Catholic, at the polls.

Although Tshisekedi does not enjoy the same degree of popularity as his father, he has risen steadily through the party ranks.

"Etienne was stubborn and proud," said one keen observer of the country's opposition. "Felix is more diplomatic, more conciliatory, more ready to listen to others."

Rooting out corruption 

In 2008, he became national secretary for external relations and was elected to the national assembly in 2011 as representative for Mbuji-Mayi, the country's third city.

However, he never took up his seat as he did not formally recognise his father's 2011 election defeat to Kabila.

A month after his father's death, Tshisekedi was elected as party head.

Although he holds a Belgian diploma in marketing and communication, his opponents point out that he has never held high office or had managerial experience. And some detractors have even suggested his diploma is not valid.

After announcing his bid to run for the presidency, Tshisekedi promised a return to the rule of law, to fight the "gangrene" of corruption and to bring peace to the east of the country.

Last year, he told AFP that if he won, he would set up a "truth and reconciliation commission" to call Kabila to account, but would allow him to stay in the country.

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Read more on:    felix tshisekedi  |  joseph kabila  |  drc  |  central africa  |  drc 2018 elections
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