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Congo Opposition Set Demands for December Poll

Banners in support of President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Joseph Kabila are seen outside parliament, where the president holds his state-of-the-nation speech, in Kinshasa on July 19, 2018.

Opposition parties in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Monday called on President Joseph Kabila to step down ahead of elections in December but ruled out boycotting the poll.

In an exceptional move, five parties signed a joint statement setting out demands ahead of the December 23 presidential vote, whose outcome is crucial for the sprawling, volatile DRC.

"We are not going to boycott the elections because we have known from the very beginning that this is the ruling party's plan, to push the opposition into boycott the elections," said Delly Sesanga, a supporter of exiled opposition leader Moise Katumbi.

The statement — issued two days before the start of a two-week registration period for presidential candidates — called for "free, democratic and transparent" elections.

It said the elections had to take place without Kabila as a candidate and without the use of electronic voting machines, which the government controversially wants to deploy.

It was signed by five parties, including the traditional mainstream opposition, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), as well as by parties led by Katumbi and Jean-Pierre Bemba, an ex-vice president and former warlord recently acquitted of war crimes by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Kabila has been at the helm of the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa since 2001, presiding over a mineral-rich country with a reputation for corruption, inequality and unrest.

He was just 29 when he took over as president from his father, Laurent-Desire Kabila, who was assassinated by a bodyguard.

Dozens of people have been killed in protests since late 2016, when Kabila was scheduled to stand down at the end of his second elected term, technically the last permitted under the constitution.

Kabila has kept power thanks to a constitutional clause enabling him to stay in office until a successor is elected.

On Thursday, Kabila delivered a state-of-the nation address that had caused wide speculation that he would announce whether he would run again, but no such big declaration was forthcoming.

The DRC has never known a peaceful transition of power since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960. Some experts fear it could spiral into wide-ranging conflict once more if the present political crisis is not resolved.

The UN Development Program (UNDP) placed the DRC 176th out of 188 countries on its Human Development Index published in March 2017.

The watchdog Transparency International ranked the country 156th out of 176 countries in its 2016 corruption index. It was ranked 154th out of 180 in the Reporters Without Borders' 2017 Press Freedom Index.