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Democratic Republic of the Congo: Ex-warlord Found Ineligible to Run for Presidency

(Sept. 5, 2018) On August 24, 2018, the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Independent National Electoral Commission (Commission Electorale Nationale Independente, CENI) declared Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo ineligible to run in the country’s upcoming presidential election. (Décision No. 028/CENI/BUR/18 du 24 août 2018 déclarant irrecevable les candidatures des indépendants, des partis, et des regroupements politiques à l’élection du président de la République [Decision No. 028/CENI/BUR/18 of 24 August 2018 Declaring the Candidacies of Independents, Parties, and Political Groups Ineligible for the Election of the President of the Republic]; Annexe à la Décision N°028/CENI/BUR/18 du 24 août 2018 : Liste des candidatures déclarées irrecevables à l’élection du président de la République [Annex to Decision No. 028/CENI/BUR/18 of 24 August 2018: List of the Candidates Declared Ineligible for the Election of the President of the Republic].)

Jean-Pierre Bemba was nominated in July 2018 by the Mouvement de Libération du Congo (Congo Liberation Movement, MLC) party to be their candidate in the presidential elections scheduled to take place on December 23, 2018. (Sarah Ettedgui & Nicolas Boring, Democratic Republic of the Congo: Party Names Ex-warlord for Presidential Election Following ICC Acquittal, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR.) Prior to that, Bemba had been acquitted of charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court, which overturned a 2016 Trial Chamber decision finding him guilty of these charges. (Id.) The MLC argued that Bemba should be allowed to run following his acquittal. (Mohammed Yusuf, Decision on Bemba Ballot Push Could Affect Congo’s Election, VOA (Aug. 29, 2018).)  However, the CENI based its decision on the fact that the ICC had found Bemba guilty of suborning witnesses in his trial. (Annexe à la Décision N°028/CENI/BUR/18 du 24 août 2018, supra). Bemba appealed this decision, but the appeal is still pending. (Ettedgui & Boring, supra; Jean-Pierre Bemba “Cannot Run for DRC President,” BBC NEWS (Aug. 25, 2018).)

Bemba has appealed the CENI’s decision, and the Constitutional Court is expected to issue a ruling on his eligibility by September 19. (Yusuf, supra). Observers have noted that Bemba enjoys significant support among the population, and his exclusion from the elections risks affecting the next president’s legitimacy in the eyes of many voters. (Id.)