Three men dominate the field of 21 candidates vying to become next president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa’s second-largest nation.
Little known outside DRC circles, Emmanuel Shadary, 58, is a faithful supporter of President Joseph Kabila and, some say, his likely puppet if he wins today’s election.
Kabila would “almost certainly remain the string-puller behind the scenes,” said Indigo Ellis from risk analysis company Verisk Maplecroft.
“Shadary has no special qualities other than absolute loyalty” to Kabila, an analyst at a political NGO based in Kinshasa told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Typically dressed in a smart suit and tie, Shadary served as interior minister during a period marked by violent crackdowns on demonstrators after Kabila held onto power beyond his constitutional mandate at the end of 2016.
He and 13 other officials have been hit with EU sanctions for rights violations. In retaliation, the DRC has told Europe to withdraw its envoy from Kinshasa by polling day.
Shadary initially entered politics as a member of the UDPS, DR Congo’s oldest and biggest opposition party.
In 1997, after the fall of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, he was elected vice-governor of Maniema province and a year later became governor.
After Kabila took power in 2001 following the assassination of his father, Shadary helped him found the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) a year later. He is now its permanent secretary.
Shadary speaks Swahili and Lingala, the two languages used respectively in eastern and western DRC. He is a devout Catholic, with eight children.
Felix Tshisekedi, 55, hopes the elections will hand him the presidential prize that eluded his late father Etienne, who founded the DRC’s mainstream opposition party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), in 1982.
Tshisekedi junior took the helm of the party after his father died in February 2017.
Known to his friends as “Fatshi,” he gained a Belgian diploma in marketing and communication and rose doggedly through the party ranks.
But he has never held high office or had management experience and is hobbled by the lack of his father’s charisma.
“Etienne was stubborn and proud,” says one observer of the country’s opposition.
“(But) Felix is more diplomatic, more conciliatory, more ready to listen to others.”
On November 11, Tshisekedi joined six other opposition leaders to rally behind a single unity candidate, Martin Fayulu, to take on Shadary.
But the deal was rejected by the party’s rank and file.
Tshisekedi and fellow opposition leader Vital Kamerhe swiftly abandoned the deal and ran on a joint ticket, effectively weakening and splitting the opposition.
A father of five, he attends the same Pentecostal church in Kinshasa as Fayulu.
Martin Fayulu, 62, is an outsider who shot to front-rank status in the final weeks before the elections.
Fayulu came to prominence two years ago as a fiery critic of Kabila’s efforts to cling on to power.
Often seen at the front of protest marches, he was arrested several times and was even struck on the head by a rubber bullet.
Although his Engagement for Citizenship and Development party holds just three seats in parliament, Fayulu was thrust into the limelight last month when he was named the consensus choice of opposition stalwarts meeting in Geneva.
Two days later, the deal fell apart when Felix Tshisekedi, bowing to grassroots pressure, decided to pursue his own election bid.
Fayulu has relentlessly toured the country to make his pitch. He is also backed from behind the scenes by two political heavyweights — ex-warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba and businessman Moise Katumbi, an exiled former provincial governor, both of whom were blocked from running.
Fayulu studied in France and the United States, later taking up a role in 1984 with the US oil group which became Exxon Mobil.
He stayed with the oil giant for nearly two decades, working in Africa and eventually rising to the rank of director general.
If elected, he has pledged to invest $126 billion in the economy and create 20 million jobs over five years.
A Lingala speaker, Fayulu owns a hotel in Kinshasa located between Kabila’s residence and the president’s office.