DRC Celebrates New President, Keeps Sharp Eye on Old One

Tshisekedi's victory was marred by accusations that he struck a backroom deal with the outgoing president Joseph Kabila

Tshisekedi's victory was marred by accusations that he struck a backroom deal with the outgoing president Joseph Kabila

For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today. That could hurt efforts to bring about dramatic reforms in Congo, a mineral-rich country of more than 80 million people.

The 55-year-old Tshisekedi had briefly paused his inauguration speech, not feeling well, before resuming several minutes later and asking the crowd for its understanding.

Mr Tshisekedi later returned to the podium, blaming a "moment of weakness".

In his inaugural address, Tshisekedi called for "a reconciled Congo" following the contentious election that saw him narrowly defeat another opposition leader, Martin Fayulu, and Kabila's hand-picked successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.

The announced victor was not Kabila's chosen successor - who was deeply unpopular - but Félix Tshisekedi, an opposition leader.

His speech appealed for peace and tolerance in the long-turbulent country after the disputed December 30 election. Mobutu Sese Seko ruled for more than three decades but was overthrown in 1997 by rebel leader Laurent Kabila, who was assassinated in 2001.

Tshisekedi is the son of the late veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, who died in February 2017, aged 84.

Taking over as head of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), Tshisekedi steered the party his father founded through a period of growing unrest over President Joseph Kabila's refusal to step down despite his term ending in 2016. His son's spokesman has said that will be corrected once Felix Tshisekedi takes office.

Supporters of Congolese President-elect Felix Tshisekedi celebrate his inauguration.

But days later, following a furious response from his supporters, he and fellow opposition leader Vital Kamerhe abandoned the deal and said they would run on a joint ticket, splitting the opposition.

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Fayulu described the outcome of the December 30 vote as an "electoral coup" and urged the worldwide community to reject the result.

Fayulu lodges an appeal on January 12 in the Constitutional Court against the presidential vote results.

What was supposed to be the first democratic transfer of power since independence in 1960 looks tainted with strong suspicions that the outgoing president, Joseph Kabila, intends to exert control from behind the scenes.

The opposition leader has taken the oath and held up the national flag in celebration.

Since then, African and Western powers that had expressed concerns over the disputed vote have changed course and noted Tshisekedi's win, if not congratulating him.

Felix Tshisekedi's inauguration, while disputed and controversial, is the first peaceful transfer of power that independent Congo has ever seen.

The balloting was marked by allegations of large-scale fraud and suspicions of a backroom deal by Kabila to install Tshisekedi over another opposition candidate who according to leaked electoral data was the real victor.

Among foreign nations attending the ceremony, Kenya and Zambia were represented by their presidents and Tanzania by its vice-presidents, according to the RTNC state television, while China, France, Japan and the U.S. sent their ambassadors.

That has left many Congolese wondering whether Tshisekedi's presidency will mark a meaningful break with the Kabila years, during which the economy grew at a healthy clip on the back of surging copper and cobalt production but failed to significantly dent endemic poverty.

However, Tshisekedi must work with a legislature dominated by members of Kabila's ruling coalition.

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