The European Union has decided not to send observers to the Republic of Congo to monitor a controversial presidential election set for 20 March, the bloc’s foreign policy chief said in a statement.
The EU decision came as it dismissed recent electoral reforms in the country, including the introduction of an independent electoral commission, as insufficient to guarantee a transparent vote.
“The current context does not allow … the EU to envisage setting up an electoral observers’ mission for the March 20 vote,” a spokesman for the bloc’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in the statement dated 19 February.
The European Union believes that “the reforms to the electoral law that were introduced in January 23 appear limited” and do not fulfil the recommendations made by an EU mission to the country.
The legal reform came after a new constitution removed barriers to President Denis Sassou Nguesso extending his rule.
The controversial new charter removed a 70-year age limit and a ban on presidents serving more than two terms.
It was approved by a public vote, but the opposition has dismissed it as “a constitutional coup”.
The 72-year-old Nguesso, who was president from 1979 to 1992 and has since served two consecutive seven-year mandates, has said he wanted to bring the election forward to usher in a “new dynamic” after the referendum.
The EU statement said that the electoral law changes lack transparency and may bring “judicial insecurity and therefore do not appear to (guarantee) a democratic, inclusive and transparent presidential election”.
It added that the bloc is concerned over the fate of opposition party members and sympathisers languishing in detention, awaiting judgement.
The Congolese government hit back at the decision, with Information Minister Thierry Moungalla saying: “I think the EU is free not to send observers. But this decision will prohibit them from judging the process when it comes to an end.”
“Whoever does not observe cannot judge,” he added.
Presidential hopefuls had until Saturday to register their candidacies with the election commission. Some 12 candidates are now waiting for their files to be accepted by the constitutional court.
On 15 February, the electoral roll was revised to add some 70,000 new voters, Moungalla said.