The son of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) veteran opposition leader has won the position that eluded his late father, Etienne, for decades – the African nation’s presidency.
On Thursday, 55-year-old Felix Tshisekedi was named by election officials as the provisional winner of an historic election held in December, a verdict now being doubted by the opposition and Western powers.
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Tshisekedi took 38.57 percent of the vote, while his closest challenger, Martin Fayulu, garnered 34.8 percent, according to the electoral board. Fayulu has already rejected the results.
If the losing candidates concede defeat, it would pave the way for the first peaceful transfer of power in the DRC since the country gained independence from Belgium in 1960.
The DRC’s constitutional court has until January 15 to announce the final results. The swearing-in of the new president is expected on January 18.
A relative newcomer to the Congolese political scene, Tshisekedi was elected to parliament in 2011 as a representative for Mbuji-Mayi, the country’s third largest city.
But Tshisekedi never accepted his seat as he did not recognise his father’s 2011 election defeat to President Joseph Kabila, who ruled the DRC since 2001.
Nicknamed “Fatshi” – short for three of his names Felix Antoine Tshilombo – Tshisekedi heads the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), founded by his father in 1982.
The UDPS is the vast country’s oldest and largest opposition party.
Opponents have accused Tshisekedi, who holds a diploma in marketing and communication from Belgium, of being inexperienced and riding on the popularity of his late father.
“I have more political experience than some of my opponents. I joined politics 25 years ago and started from the bottom,” he had told Al Jazeera a day before the polls.
“I am my father’s son but I am also my own man.”
For a while, it looked like the portly father of five might not even be on the ballot.
In November, Tshisekedi and six other opposition leaders backed Martin Fayulu to take on Kabila’s handpicked successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.
But the agreement between the opposition leaders fell apart with Tshisekedi claiming his supporters wanted his name on the ballot.
Vital Kamerhe, another opposition leader, also abandoned the agreement and joined forces with Tshisekedi.
The UDPS leader has said he would pick Kamerhe as his prime minister if he won the vote.
Tshisekedi, who was born in capital Kinshasa, ran on a pledge to fight corruption and poverty.
The DRC is home to more than 60 percent of the world’s cobalt and is the continent’s second-biggest producer of copper but most of its citizens live in poverty.