Opposition cries foul after Congo’s Sassou claims new five year term

Political gathering in the Republic of Congo. [Ben Fox]

This article is part of our special report Elections in the Republic of Congo.

Denis Sassou Nguesso has been elected for a new five year term as President of Congo-Brazzaville, after being declared the victor in Sunday’s presidential election.

According to official results published on Thursday (24 March) by the Congolese electoral commission (CNEI), Sassou Nguesso claimed 60%, with Guy Brice Parfait Collelas and General Jean-Michel Mokoko claiming 15% and 14% respectively.

The controversial election was marked by opposition accusations of vote buying, rigging of the electoral register and intimidation of opposition parties, although the chief of the electoral commission insisted that the election had been free and fair.

Internet blackout in Congo as government fears post-election unrest

The Congolese government imposed a 48-hour communications block of the internet and telephone networks as the country’s voters went to the polls for presidential elections.

“The honest candidates will recognise that the results are correct. The election mechanism is so transparent that there is no way to manipulate the result,” Henri Bouaka, the president of the CNEI, told euractiv.com.

“I want to do my work honestly, and the result we will announce will be the real result.”

“The freedom of movement of candidates was not undermined….as a whole, the campaign complied with our laws and with freedom of speech,” he added.

Despite the large margin of victory, the poll is the most closely fought since 1992, when Sassou Nguesso finished third in the first round of voting. Sassou Nguesso returned to power in 1997 following a short civil war.

The 2002 or 2009 elections were barely contested by opposition parties.

“I knew beforehand that the dice were loaded, but we had agreed to play the game,” General Mokoko, the chief of staff of the Congolese army between 1987 and 1993, who resigned as Sassou Nguesso’s adviser on peace and security in February.

Congo goes to vote, questions remain on the nascent democracy

Election analysts and surveys suggest that President Denis Sassou Nguesso will claim between 60-70% of the vote in the first round of elections on Sunday (20 March). Is Sassou’s likely victory a triumph or defeat for Congolese democracy?

During a speech given just before the results were announced, he told voters that “It’s time to stop being afraid. You have massively rejected he who is pretending to have won.”

Mokoko was the last to throw his hat into the election ring in February, and ran as an independent.

Meanwhile, a government-imposed blackout of the internet and phone networks remained in place on Thursday, five days after being put in place by Interior Minister Raymond Mboulou.

Although little violence was reported, in part due to an increased police and military presence in Brazzaville, two journalists from Le Monde, a Paris-based newspaper, and Agence France-Presse, were assaulted by plainclothes police officers as they left a press conference held by Mokoko.

Despite changing the constitution, via a referendum in October, to allow him to run for up to two five year terms, the election is expected to be the 72-year old Sassou Nguesso’s last.

Without a political party behind him, Mokoko lacked the organisation needed to run an effective campaign, but is seen as the most likely man to lead the opposition over the coming years and challenge for the Presidency.

Sassou Nguesso’s son Denis Christel, who currently runs the country’s state oil company, has also been touted as a potential successor.

“This vote took place in a worrying context, particularly due to the cut in communications,” said France’s foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal, in a statement on Thursday.

For its part, the EU, which refused to send an election observation mission, stated that there had been “a foreseeable lack of independence and transparency in the elections.”

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