France’s ruling party has called for a postponement of the 20 March elections in Congo, saying long-time leader Denis Sassou Nguessou was intimidating opponents and stifling democracy.
One of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, Sassou Nguesso has served as head of state for nearly 32 years and is seeking a third term after controversially changing the constitution.
The Socialist Party (PS) of President François Hollande denounced “attacks on freedom of expression” in the poll run-up and the “obstacles put in the way of the main rivals of President Denis Sassou Nguessou”.
The party’s national secretary Maurice Braud said the Congolese head of state had organised “surveillance of his main rivals and imposed a state of emergency which seems to be unjustified”.
Braud urged the United Nations, the European Union and the African Union to use their influence to delay the polls.
Congolese government spokesman Thierry Moungalla took to Twitter to berate the Socialists’ stance.
“Braud of the French PS cites an imaginary ‘state of emergency’ in Congo and (wants to) put back the election,” Moungalla tweeted in a post incorporating the hashtags “hallucinogenic” and “neo-colonialism”.
Congo’s new constitution was adopted following a landslide ‘yes’ vote in an October referendum that was boycotted by the opposition, which denounced it as “a constitutional coup”.
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Before the changes, the constitution had stipulated a maximum age of 70 for presidential candidates and limit on the number of terms to two.
At 72, Sassou Nguesso was over the age limit and had already served two consecutive seven-year terms.
Hollande had urged the Congolese leader to “consult his people” on the proposed constitutional changes and after the referendum his office said the whole process had been severely flawed.
Congolese authorities last month detained a former army chief, Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko, who is running against the president.