Congolese candidate declares himself head of state

By Simon Allison 10 November 2011

Who needs an election when you’ve got plenty of confidence and a bit of bravado? DRC presidential candidate Etienne Tshisekedi pre-empted the polls by virtually anointing himself as head of state on national TV. What hope is there for Congo’s democracy when even the opposition favour the autocratic approach? By SIMON ALLISON (@simonallison).

“In a democracy, power rests with the popular majority,” Etienne Tshisekedi told viewers on live TV in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Tshisekedi is one of two serious opposition candidates in the DRC’s upcoming elections, scheduled for late November, but plagued by logistical difficulties that might cause delays. He continued, in the third person: “Since the majority of the Congolese people is with Tshisekedi and trusts Tshisekedi, from now on, I am the Head of State. Regarding the elections, my message is simple as I have said. Starting today, it’s the Congolese people who are the authority of the country. It’s Tshisekedi Etienne, no one else.”

This speech would have worked at a presidential inauguration or a victory parade. But given that the Congolese elections haven’t even happened yet, it was a bizarre declaration from the veteran politician, who was already looking highly unlikely to unseat incumbent Joseph Kabila. Especially since he wasn’t even in the country when he made the statement; instead, he was in South Africa, where he has inexplicably been for the duration of the official campaigning month which started on 1 November.

Tshisekedi also called for the release of supporters who have been jailed by the government and threatened to “break all the prisons” if his demand was not met.

The government responded angrily to Tshisekedi, saying his statement could amount to treason, and swiftly shut down the television station that broadcast the comments. DM

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