Congolese opponent Jean-Pierre Bemba (C), escorted by police officers and bodyguards, leaves the office of the Independent Electoral Commission after applying to be a candidate for next presidential elections of December 23, in Kinshasa, on August 2, 2018.Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba announced August 2, 2018 in Kinshasa that he had applied to be a candidate for the presidential election of December 23, the day after his return to the Democratic Republic of Congo, after ten years spent in the prisons of the ICC. / AFP PHOTO / Junior D. KANNAH
Agence France-Presse

Former warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba’s candidacy in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s upcoming presidential elections was deemed “inadmissible” by the country’s election commission on Friday, as opposition groups cried foul.

The commission rejected the candidacy of Bemba, a rival to DR Congo President Joseph Kabila, on the basis that he had been “convicted by the International Criminal Court” in March 2018 and handed a year in prison and a 300,000 euro fine for bribing witnesses.

Bemba’s war crimes convictions were overturned by the court in The Hague and he returned to Kinshasa in August after being acquitted.

Just ahead of the election commission’s announcement, the political opposition to president Kabila issued a fresh rallying cry, accusing the “powers that be” of seeking to “exclude” multiple opposition candidates.

Opposition groups called on Kabila to free up the electoral process and “stop giving injunctions to the election commission,” according to a statement signed by Bemba, and exiled opposition politicians Moise Katumbi and Felix Tshisekedi.

Overall, the election commission has excluded six out of the 25 candidates who had registered to run in the presidential elections, set for December 23.

In addition to Bemba, the commission has barred three of Kabila’s former prime ministers — Samy Badibanga, Adolphe Muzito, and Antoine Gizenga.

“These exclusions are unacceptable and show once again that the electoral commission is totally dominated by Kabila,” Moise Katumbi wrote on Twitter.

A former governor of Katanga who joined the opposition in 2015, Katumbi said that he had been blocked from returning to the DRC to register his candidacy.

He has been living in Belgium since 2016 and has been sentenced absentia to three years in prison. Considered a fugitive by the Ministry of Justice, he is the subject of an international arrest warrant.

“With the population, the opposition, civil society, our partners, let’s keep up the pressure, refuse to accept these sham elections,” Katumbi added.

The six excluded candidates have 48 hours to appeal to the Constitutional Court. The election commission must publish a final list of candidates by September 19.

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