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DRC Opposition Ousts Leader Ahead of Elections

The main opposition party in the Democratic Republic of Congo is in disarray after firing its leader, making it even more difficult to mount a challenge against President Joseph Kabila in upcoming elections.

The Movement for the Liberation of Congo, or MLC, ousted secretary-general Francois Muamba, amid infighting over the party's future direction.

The disagreement centers around a memorandum sent by a few dozen influential members of the MLC to the party hierarchy. The memo demanded the party hold a convention to clarify its positions and candidates ahead of presidential and legislative elections in November.

Muamba responded to the letter by saying the leadership would address their concerns, which angered some MLC party leaders who said it showed Muamba's bias toward the authors of the memorandum.

An MLC party official, Jean Lucien Bussa, says Muamba refused to consult him before siding with the signatories of the letter, demonstrating that he intends to run the party like his personal property.

Bussa says Muamba has ceased to be the umpire and harmonizer of viewpoints and must resign. He says the ambitions of a great party like the MLC cannot be reduced to the dimensions of a single individual.

The board of the MLC dismissed Muamba on Monday and replaced him with Thomas Luhaka, who has been tasked with making suggestions on how to restructure the party before polls later this year.

But the decision to throw out Muamba is sparking controversy, with observers predicting an eventual fragmenting of the party.

One of the signatories of the memorandum, Albert Mpeti, says the decision to dismiss Muamba is unwarranted.

Mpeti says the secretary-general is the highest authority and, to his knowledge, does not take sides. He asks on what grounds are they throwing him out after he served the party loyally?

Muamba has been at the helm of the party since 2008 after its former leader, ex-Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba, was arrested on a warrant from the International Criminal Court and charged with war crimes. Bemba is accused of authorizing militias to murder and rape civilians in neighboring Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003.

Muamba, who was not summoned to the crisis meeting in Kinshasa, said he does not recognize the decision replacing him because it infringes on statutes governing the functioning of the party.

Congo's opposition has been unable to coalesce around a single candidate to challenge incumbent President Joseph Kabila, who in 2006 won Congo's first democratic election since independence.

Parliament adopted a controversial law this year limiting the presidential election to a single-round ballot despite an outcry from the opposition. The new system is expected to make it even harder for the opposition to challenge Kabila's bid for re-election.