Congo votes for parliament with opposition calling foul
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