Ever since Vital Kamerhe fell out with Joseph Kabila in January 2009, rumors have been circulating that he’s going to challenge the Rais for the presidency next year. The last round of such rumors were sparked when he attacked the Kabila personally for the murder of Floribert Chebeya – a far cry from the much more careful criticism he provided last year when he resigned as head of the national assembly, when he made sure not to directly criticize the head of state. Apparently he has spent part of the past year getting rid of some of his investments in Kinshasa, moving his family to South Africa and preparing to launch his own campaign. Some, however, still doubt that he has decided to throw his lot in with the opposition. He was apparently invited to the president’s official gala dinner at the 50th anniversary celebrations, where he even hung out with his alleged rival, Augustin Katumba Mwanke. It is also strange that the new head of the national assembly, Evariste Boshab, has not taken steps to get his predecessor expelled for having been absent for almost a year from parliament; Boshab apparently said that the by-laws don’t require the MPs to be physically present (so only in spirit?). Nonetheless, the Bukavu native is currently in the US visiting businessmen and Congolese Diaspora in Washington and Florida – according to one source at least, he confirmed to them that he will be running in the elections next year. According to some of his friends, he also met with Assistant Secretary of State Johnny Carson. Other sources suggest that he has even been to The Hague to see JP Bemba to obtain his support for next year’s polls. (An MLC cadre told me that he had asked for a visit, but had not yet seen him). Congo watcher Colette Braeckman recently also blogged that The Pacifier (as musicians call Kamerhe) is going to run next year. Both of the leading opposition parties, the MLC and UDPS, appear to be headless going into next year’s elections, as Bemba is in jail (hearing in August) and Tshisekedi is in poor health. Already, Kabila appears determined to deal harshly with any challenges – two days ago security agents shut down the two MLC-affiliated TV stations CCTV and CKTV, allegedly because a MLC cadre had prematurely launched the election campaign. According to the MLC, all he did was criticize the president in the opposition’s usual manner. If Kamerhe does run, it will get very tense. He would be a real competitor in the Kivus, where he is popular, and might also be able to join forces with westerners like Bemba, Kamitatu and Nzanga (who I have heard is thinking about dropping out of the AMP, as well). That could prompt Kabila to rig the elections, which could in turn bring more chaos. In any case, things promise to get interesting in 2011.