KINSHASA (Reuters) -Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi launched his re-election bid on Sunday in a packed-to-capacity stadium in the capital Kinshasa, urging voters to give him another mandate to consolidate his achievements.
More than 43 million registered voters are eligible to take part in the general election and presidential polls on Dec. 20.
Tshisekedi, 60, who came to power in 2018 following a disputed election in the world's largest producer of battery material cobalt and a major copper producer, is seeking another term following a turbulent five years in office.
Speaking at the 80,000-capacity Kinshasa Martyrs Stadium, packed with his coalition supporters decked in party colours and carrying effigies of its leaders, Tshisekedi told the cheering crowd he had delivered free basic education and planned to soon introduce universal healthcare.
"In just two years we have been able to do all of these actions that you have seen, but we can do better. Vote for me to consolidate the gains we already have," Tshisekedi said, adding that his first two years in office were constrained by a power-sharing agreement with former president Joseph Kabila.
"The others will come and start from scratch, it is better to consolidate what we have started," he said.
Tshisekedi will face 25 other candidates in the presidential race, including old rival Martin Fayulu, a 66-year-old former Exxon Mobil executive who came second in the 2018 election.
Other challengers include Nobel Peace Prize-winning gynaecologist Denis Mukwege, who is running for the first time, Moise Katumbi, a millionaire businessman and former governor of the copper-rich Katanga region, and former prime minister Augustin Matata Ponyo.
Tshisekedi, son of long-term opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, had on taking office promised to root out corruption and authoritarian rule, rebuild the economy, tackle inequalities and deal with Congo's prolonged security crisis, but critics say he has fallen short on these issues.
His first term has been mired by economic hardship, the COVID-19 pandemic, Ebola outbreaks and persistent insecurity, particularly in the east where the resurgent M23 rebel group seized swathes of territory displacing over 1 million.
"I'm backing Tshisekedi because he is the ideal choice for Congo given what he has done already. He has proven that if we give him another mandate, he'll do even better," said Alidor Ilunga, a 35-year-old supporter.
Rival Fayulu launched his campaign in Bandundu, around 400km (249 miles) northeast of the capital, also on Sunday, while other candidates including Katumbi are expected to launch theirs from Monday.
(Reporting by Ange Kasongo; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by David Holmes)