But days before the results were announced, rumours began swirling of a rapprochement after Tshisekedi spoke warmly of Kabila in an interview with Belgium’s Le Soir newspaper.
“It is clear that he will be able to live peacefully in his own country and carry out his business, he has nothing to fear,” he said.
“One day we might even think of paying him tribute for agreeing to stand down,” he said, suggesting Kabila could even be named a special ambassador.
And immediately after he was declared winner, his first words were a tribute to Kabila.
“Today we should no longer see him as an adversary, but rather as a partner in the democratic change in our country,” he told crowds of triumphant supporters.
Almost didn’t run
Analysts said the delay in announcing the results had raised suspicions of some kind of “backroom deal” which would benefit Kabila and enable him to influence the new president.
“A Tshisekedi presidency would be the least bad alternative… for the regime as it would put a veil of legitimacy on the electoral process and would be more manageable than a Fayulu presidency,” said Adeline VanHoutte of the Economist Intelligence Unit.
For a while, it looked like Tshisekedi’s name would not even be on the ballot.
In November, he had joined six other opposition leaders to rally behind Fayulu as the single unity candidate.
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.
Since its founding in 1982, the UDPS has served as an opposition mainstay in the former Belgian colony – first under dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, then under Kabila’s father Laurent-Desire Kabila, who ruled from 1997 until his death in 2001.
Over the years, Tshisekedi rose steadily through the ranks of the party which was fashioned and directed by his father.
In 2008, he became the party’s national secretary for external relations and then in 2011 he was elected to parliament as the MP for Mbuji-Mayi, the country’s third city.
But he never took up his seat after refusing to recognise his father’s 2011 election defeat by Kabila.
“Etienne was stubborn and proud,” said one keen observer of the country’s opposition. “Felix is more diplomatic, more conciliatory, more ready to listen to others.”
A father of five, Tshisekedi goes to the same Pentecostal church as Fayulu in Kinshasa, the capital.
Although he holds a Belgian diploma in marketing and communication, he has had little political or managerial experience, with some detractors even suggesting his diploma is not valid.
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