(Bloomberg) -- Opposition leaders in the Democratic Republic of Congo are in talks about choosing a single candidate to face incumbent President Felix Tshisekedi, with national elections less than three weeks away.

Martin Fayulu, who was officially runner-up to Tshisekedi in Congo’s disputed 2018 election, said talks are ongoing among several candidates, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Denis Mukwege.

“A common candidate is ideal,” Fayulu said by phone from the campaign trail in the eastern town of Bunia on Thursday. “But for the moment everyone is running their campaign.”

Twenty-six presidential candidates will be on the ballot for the Dec. 20 vote, though some have already dropped out to back businessman and former politician Moise Katumbi. They’re competing to run a country that’s the world’s biggest supplier of battery mineral cobalt and a top-three producer of copper.

Read More: Ex-Prime Minister Drops Congo Presidential Bid, Backs Katumbi

Fayulu, 67, said he is “not currently in discussions with Katumbi.” Representatives from the Katumbi and Mukwege campaigns didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.

Opposition leaders backed Fayulu in 2018 against the hand-picked candidate of former President Joseph Kabila, until Tshisekedi broke away to run his own campaign. 

Power Sharing

Congo’s Constitutional Court declared Tshisekedi the victor and he began his term in a power-sharing arrangement with Kabila supporters. Leaked results from the country’s electoral commission and observers from the Catholic Church suggested at the time that Fayulu actually won the poll. 

Fayulu, who spent almost two decades working around the world with Exxon Mobil Corp., has lost key allies from that election, including Katumbi and Jean-Pierre Bemba, himself a former presidential runner-up in 2006 who is now defense minister under Tshisekedi.

There have been no large-scale independent polls, making it difficult to gauge public opinion on the upcoming vote. 

Fayulu said he continues to attract large crowds at campaign stops, showing he remains a threat to Tshisekedi. Still, he’d be open to backing another candidate if one emerged in the coming days, he said.

“All depends on what the people want,” he said. 

Electoral Breaches

Last week, Fayulu, Mukwege and several other candidates sued the electoral commission and government for what they say are numerous breaches of electoral laws, including delays in publishing voting rolls, defective identification cards, and a lack of police protection for their campaigns.

Congo’s electoral commission says it will be ready for election day despite delays shipping voting material around Africa’s second-biggest country by landmass.

Fayulu said his immediate concern as president would be to end the violence in eastern Congo, where almost 7 million people are displaced because of fighting among dozens of armed groups, according to the United Nations. 

Two years of Tshisekedi-imposed martial law in two eastern provinces along with thousands of troops from the UN, East African Community and private contractors have been unable to bring peace, Fayulu said. 

“We have subcontracted our security,” he said in a separate interview last week in the capital, Kinshasa. 

Instead he would focus on better training for a bigger army, paid for in part by reducing the bloated salaries of elected officials, he said.

The businessman, who still owns a boutique hotel in Kinshasa, said he would encourage foreign investment and had no plans to renegotiate Congo’s major mining contracts, beyond ensuring they were all “win-win.”  

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.