The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) opposition leaders have agreed to meet in Geneva to choose a joint candidate for the upcoming presidential elections.
The elections, to take place on December 23, are critical for the future of the DRC, a state that has never experienced a peaceful transition of power since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960.
“All opposition heads will gather in Switzerland on Thursday to attend a meeting to designate a joint candidate,” one of the challengers, Freddy Matungulu, told AFP news agency on Tuesday.
“The public has high expectations. We, as a group, cannot make any claim on winning the presidential election unless we act together,” he said.
Leading opposition figure Felix Tshisekedi will take part in the meeting that is expected to take place over three days, his deputy chief of staff, Peter Kazadi, said.
Twenty-one candidates are set to take part in the presidential election, with voting also taking place for parliamentary and provincial assemblies.
The DRC is a country with mineral wealth worth trillions of dollars, torn apart by the dozens of armed groups battling for it.
Current President Joseph Kabila, 47, has been in power since 2001 after the assassination of his father, Laurent-Desire Kabila, the country’s third president.
He was elected in 2006 in the DRC’s first democratic election since it gained independence.
Kabila secured a second term in 2011, though that election was plagued by allegations of widespread voter fraud.
Millions of Congolese have been displaced by various internal conflicts. The country has also seen violence and widespread anger over what some see as Kabila’s refusal to relinquish power after the end of his second full term in December 2016.
Months of speculation over Kabila’s intentions, marked by protests that were repressed at a cost of dozens of lives, ended in August when he threw his weight behind Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, a hardline former interior minister and loyalist.
Opponents believe Kabila is now engineering the election to make sure Shadary is his successor.
During talks in Johannesburg on October 25, opposition parties agreed to name a unity candidate by November 15.
One of the main challenges they face is to forge a joint stance on the use of electronic voting machines, a technology that some critics condemn as an invitation to electoral fraud.
“Our message to the ruling coalition and the electoral commission president is that our people want credible elections in December without voting machines and without this corrupt electoral list,” Clement Manzau, an opposition member, told Al Jazeera.
“We cannot participate in elections that we know already we will fail because of this voting machine,” he added.