Jean-Pierre Bemba has been declared an opposition party candidate for the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) upcoming presidential election following his recent being acquittal of war crimes charges in an appeal to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Bemba, a former DRC vice president, accepted the candidacy from his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) party on Friday by telephone from Brussels, where he was released days after the ICC overturned his 18-year sentence.
Bemba had been found guilty in 2016 as a military commander of committing crimes against humanity and war crimes with a campaign of murder, rape and pillage by his MLC troops in Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003.
The ICC is due to issue a ruling in a separate case in which he was sentenced to a one-year in jail and fined 300,000 euro ($350,000) in 2017 for bribing witnesses during his main war crimes trial. Having already spent a decade behind bars, and legal experts expect him to be released definitively if this time is taken into account.
It is not clear, however, if he will be able to run in December as the sentencing process for the witness tampering conviction could drag on for weeks, or even months. That could prevent him from returning to the DRC before the August 8 deadline to register his candidacy.
Several opposition leaders, including the exiled millionaire businessman Moise Katumbi, have been nominated by their parties to stand in an election that has faced several delays after being scheduled for November 2016 but has been repeatedly delayed.
The MLC and other opposition parties have endorsed the idea of presenting a single opposition candidacy but it is not clear they will be able to agree on who that should be.
President Joseph Kabila was supposed to leave office in 2016 after the expiration of his two-term constitutional limit but refused to do so and has failed to hold elections since.
He has also refused to say if he intends to run again this year or appoint another candidate from his party.
Bemba served as vice president to Kabila during a 2003-06 transitional government and is popular in western DRC, including the capital, Kinshasa.