DR Congo President Joseph Kabila scheduled talks on Tuesday with allies to discuss hand-picking a candidate to run in upcoming elections on the eve of a key campaign deadline, sources said.
Members of a pro-Kabila alliance known as the Common Front for Congo (FCC) "have been called to an important meeting this evening at Kingakati," a minister told AFP, referring to the presidential residence on the outskirts of Kinshasa.
Another source, close to Kabila, said, "It's not a secret any more -- it's about naming a candidate for our presidential platform."
Names in the rumour mill include former prime minister Augustin Matata Ponyo; Kabila's chief of staff, Nehemie Mwilanya Wilondja; and the president of the National Assembly, Aubin Minaku.
Candidates have until 1530 GMT Wednesday to file their bid for the December 23 poll -- a twice-delayed ballot seen as crucial for the future of the notoriously unstable country.
Kabila, in power since 2001, should have stepped down at the end of 2016 when his constitutional two-term limit expired.
He has invoked a constitutional clause enabling him to stay on as caretaker.
But he has left everyone guessing whether he will seek to run again, perhaps by arguing that this is permissible because of a revision of the constitution in 2006.
The uncertainty has ratcheted up political tensions, leading to anti-Kabila protests that have been bloodily repressed.
- Volatile -
A country of some 80 million people, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has never known a peaceful transition of power since it gained independence in 1960.
Kabila, 47, took over from his father, Laurent-Desire Kabila, who was assassinated by a bodyguard.
His tenure over the vast mineral-rich country has been marked by a reputation for corruption, inequality and unrest. The watchdog Transparency International ranked it 156 out of 176 countries in its 2016 corruption index.
Many provinces are in the grip of armed conflict and millions have had to flee their homes, many flocking to Uganda, Tanzania, Angola and Zambia.
The United States is ready to impose further sanctions to dissuade Kabila from continuing his hold on power, the Financial Times reported Monday.
"The US is trying to convince Kabila to go between now and August 8," an unnamed source told the newspaper. "They're trying to squeeze his family and his finances".
- Candidates -
Candidates who have already filed their bid include Jean-Pierre Bemba, 55, a former warlord and Kabila rival, who returned to Kinshasa last week after being acquitted of war crimes convictions by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Felix Tshisekedi, 55, leader of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), would file his application Tuesday, his spokesman Peter Kazadi told AFP.
Another candidate, who declared his hand on Tuesday is Tryphon Kin-Kiey Mulumba -- once a spokesman to former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and twice a minister under Kabila.
Kin-Kiey -- a vocal Kabila supporter -- is running as an independent, local media said.
He told AFP he was running "in the name of my party," called the Action Party.
The authorities last week barred Moise Katumbi, 53, a wealthy businessman and former governor of the province of Katanga, from returning home to file his bid.
Katumbi has been living in self-imposed exile in Belgium since May 2016 after falling out with Kabila.
The pro-Kabila FCC is an election platform combining two groups, the Presidential Majority and the People's Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD).
After Wednesday's deadline, the definitive list of candidates will be announced on September 19.
President of the Democratic Republic of Congo Joseph Kabila
Map of the DR Congo, showing conflict zones, mineral wealth, UN bases, food insecurity and refugees, with close-up on North & South Kivu
Former warlord and ex-vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba returned home last week to file his election bid