A poster featuring Congo's current President Joseph Kabila with ruling party candidate and former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary is displayed on the road leading to the airport in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dec. 17, 2018
A poster featuring Congo's current President Joseph Kabila with ruling party candidate and former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary is displayed on the road leading to the airport in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dec. 17, 2018

KINSHASA, CONGO - The crowd roared as the wife of Congo’s departing president pressed her palm to the forehead of the anointed successor and appeared to pray.

A benediction for the man whom President Joseph Kabila has positioned to take over is likely not needed. As this huge Central African nation swings toward a Dec. 30 election that could be its first peaceful, democratic transfer of power, a vocal opposition fears that the long-delayed vote will be rigged in favor of Kabila’s ruling party.

Kabila’s chosen candidate, Emanuel Ramazani Shadary, has not made waves in Congolese politics. That’s the point, critics say. They believe Shadary will just keep the presidential seat warm until 2023, when Kabila can return to office.

A supporter of Democratic Republic of Congo opposition leader Martin Fayulu reacts after police fire teargas on December 19, 2018 in Kinshasa.
DR Congo Polls Postponed One Week to December 30
Elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been postponed by one week, to Dec. 30, the country's electoral commission said Thursday.Commission chair Corneille Nangaa told reporters the delay is due to "technical" problems related to the capital, Kinshasa.

Kabila supported those suspicions this month when his camp summoned foreign correspondents to the capital, Kinshasa, for rare interviews in which he cheerfully hinted he would be back in five years’ time. The constitution merely blocks three consecutive mandates, he said. “You should never rule out anything.”

And with that, critics warn that Shadary will play Medvedev to Kabila’s Putin, president in name only while Kabila holds power behind the scenes in a country with mineral resources worth trillions of dollars and yet one of the least developed in the world. Russian President Vladimir Putin avoided term limits in 2008 by putting forward an ally, Dmitry Medvedev, as president until he could return four years later.

Kabila in his interview with The Associated Press only mentioned Shadary if asked about him.

When Kabila announced months ago that he would step aside and named his preferred candidate, Shadary offered thanks to “almighty God for the grace he has shown us.” When Kabila’s wife blessed him in front of a campaign crowd earlier this month, he replied, “Amen.”

The 58-year-old Shadary has been described as a loyalist, not only to Kabila but to his father, former President Laurent Kabila. Shadary on Twitter in recent months has posted as much about Joseph Kabila, “an exceptional man in Africa and around the world,” as about himself.

“More soldier than general,” is how the International Crisis Group has described Shadary, pointing out that he does not have an independent power base.

Congolese police chase supporters of opposition candidate Martin Fayulu who were marching towards Nsele, 50kms east of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dec. 19, 2018.
Clashes Erupt in Congo After Vote Campaigning Halted in Kinshasa
Police fired tear gas to disperse rock-throwing opposition supporters in Congo's capital on Wednesday after the governor ordered a halt to campaigning ahead of Sunday's presidential vote on security grounds. The decision by Governor Andre Kimbuta, a member of the ruling coalition, follows crack-downs by security forces last week that killed at least seven people and a fire that destroyed thousands of voting machines. A few hours after the ban was announced, carloads of police using pink tear gas…

Months before he was announced in August as Kabila’s chosen successor, Shadary told Radio France International he was not a presidential candidate and in fact was going to run for re-election as a national deputy from Maniema province in the east.

Shadary, the father of eight children and a Catholic, is a native of Kabambare in Maniema. He studied political science and rose through the ranks of Kabila’s People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy.

He is a former interior minister, a role in which he directed the government’s response to months of deadly protests across the country over the delayed election, originally due in late 2016. In some of protesters’ most vivid confrontations with security forces, diplomats and others gathered at Kinshasa’s Catholic cathedral were tear-gassed, and altar boys were arrested. Pope Francis appealed for peace.

For his “success in the political crisis,” his ruling party bio says, Shadary was named party secretary-general by Kabila early this year. He also gained the nickname “the man of difficult situations.”

The European Union, however, sanctioned Shadary along with more than a dozen other Congolese officials, accusing him of obstructing Congo’s electoral process and directing the crackdown on protesters.

As the election approached, Congo’s foreign minister this month asked the EU’s foreign policy chief to lift the “illegal” sanctions or at least suspend them for a “probationary period” as a compromise.

But days later, the EU prolonged the sanctions on Shadary and others, saying travel bans and asset freezes would be renewed for a year. Annoyed, Kabila’s special adviser Kikaya Bin Karubi accused the EU of interfering in the election.

Shadary faces the Dec. 30 vote as candidate for the recently formed Common Front for Congo coalition. Kabila is considered its moral authority.

A man looks at campaign posters in the district of Lingwala in Kinshasa, DRC, Dec. 18, 2018.
UN Urges Sides to Reject Violence Ahead of DRC Vote
The U.N. Security Council Tuesday urged all parties to reject violence five days before the presidential election in the Democratic Republic of Congo. At least six people have been killed in violence in the run-up to the December 23 election, which will see the conflict-ridden central African country emerge from President Joseph Kabila's 17-year rule. Kinshasa denies any link between the bloodshed and campaigning. The Security Council asked all sides "to continue to reject violence of any kind,…

Shadary has two main challengers after opposition parties briefly managed to rally behind a single candidate and then broke apart. Martin Fayulu leads the remainder of that coalition. Felix Tshisekedi, head of Congo’s most prominent opposition party, joined forces with Vital Kamerhe, who finished third in the 2011 election and agreed to throw his party’s support behind him.

Two other opposition candidates with strong followings, Jean-Pierre Bemba and Moise Katumbi, were blocked by Congolese authorities from running.

Whoever receives the most votes wins, even without an absolute majority.

Shadary has vowed to be an effective leader who will act against corruption in a country notorious for it.

But his campaign is not convincing, said Al Kitenge, a Congolese economic analyst. “Shadary’s governance program ... is not very ambitious, nor geared toward addressing the challenges of our country.”