Congo votes for par­lia­ment with op­po­si­tion call­ing foul

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Vot­ers went to the polls in leg­isla­tive elec­tions in the oil-rich Re­pub­lic of Congo yes­ter­day, the first since a vi­o­lence-marred pres­i­den­tial poll last year which re­turned De­nis Sas­sou Nguesso to power. The first round of polling to elect Na­tional Assem­bly mem­bers as well as lo­cal coun­cils is tak­ing place with the op­po­si­tion call­ing foul, ac­cus­ing the rul­ing Con­golese La­bor Party (PCT) of giv­ing its can­di­dates an un­fair ad­van­tage. Elec­toral of­fi­cials said vot­ing was nev­er­the­less pro­ceed­ing calmly al­though some polling sta­tions opened more than a hour late be­cause of a de­lay in re­ceiv­ing vot­ing ma­te­ri­als.

Henri Bouka, head of the Na­tional Elec­tion Com­mis­sion (CNEI), said that “for the mo­ment all is go­ing well” but that voter turnout so far was low. “We hope that as the day goes on we will see a greater num­ber of vot­ers,” he added. How­ever, an in­ci­dent was re­ported in the north­ern town of Kelle where op­po­si­tion protesters briefly took away the bal­lot boxes, a lo­cal res­i­dent who gave his name only as An­toine said by phone. “The bal­lot boxes have been re­turned af­ter a lot of ne­go­ti­a­tion,” he said, adding that one pro­tester was beaten up by po­lice but that his in­juries were not life-threat­en­ing.

Sas­sou Nguesso re­turned to of­fice in March 2016 af­ter a con­sti­tu­tional ref­er­en­dum ended a two-term pres­i­den­tial term limit, amid deadly vi­o­lence no­tably in the Pool re­gion neigh­bor­ing the cap­i­tal Brazzaville. The 73-year-old pres­i­dent’s PCT is run­ning 128 can­di­dates for the 151 seats avail­able, while sev­eral in­de­pen­dents have close ties to the party. The main par­lia­men­tary op­po­si­tion group, the PanAfrican Union for So­cial Democ­racy (UPADS), has put for­ward 43 can­di­dates, com­pared to 31 run by the UDH-Yuki group of Guy-Brice Par­fait Kole­las, who came sec­ond in the pres­i­den­tial last year.

But an op­po­si­tion coali­tion has said it will only take part un­der cer­tain cir­cum­stances, in­clud­ing “the end of the cri­sis in Pool and the re­lease of all po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers”. Two lead­ers of the coali­tion, Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko and An­dre Okombi Salissa, were ar­rested and jailed in June 2016 and in Jan­uary “for threat­en­ing the in­ter­nal se­cu­rity of the state”. —AFP

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