Thursday, March 24, 2016

Congo-Brazzaville: President Nguesso Declared Winner of Elections

President Denis Sassou Nguesso has claimed victory in national elections to extend his 32 years in power. Opposition cries foul and demands a recount as world leaders call for calm.

Interior minister Raymond Zephyrin Mboulou announced Wednesday that Nguesso had received 60 percent following a tense weekend poll. He made the announcement at 3:30 a.m. (0230 UTC) following a government-ordered communications blackout during polling.

Resource-rich Congo has been on edge since an October constitutional referendum that ended a two-term limit on presidential mandates, allowing Nguesso, the 72-year-old former army officer to run for office again.

Fears of unrest as cities on edge

Most businesses in the south of the capital Brazzaville, an opposition stronghold, stayed closed on Wednesday amid concerns over the unrest.

This comes as two opposition candidates rejected partial results released by the national electoral commission, which gave Nguesso 67 percent of votes.

"How do you want us to accept such a result?" General Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko, a former Nguesso advisor who quit his post in February.

Following official results showing candidate Guy-Price Parfait Kolelas with 15 percent and Mokoko with 14 percent, the former general demanded a recount.

"I knew beforehand that the dice were loaded, but we had agreed to play the game," Mokoko said.

Police moving against opposition

Kolelas' spokesman Vivien Manangou said government forces had stormed the candidate's campaign offices on Tuesday, hurling tear gas canisters and causing a stampede that left one person dead. These claims were impossible to verify independently, the AFP news agency reported.

Police fired tear gas on Wednesday morning to disperse opposition supporters who had gathered to await results, witnesses said. There was a also a heavy police and military presence in the economic hub Pointe Noire, where the opposition is popular, a resident told the Reuters news agency.

As one of Africa's longest-serving leaders, Nguesso has ruled Congo for all but five years since 1979 - he was in exile in Paris from 1992 to 1997 - and is accused by critics of corruption, nepotism and stifling democracy.

Western powers concerned

The US State Department said that it had "received numerous reports of irregularities that have raised concerns about the credibility of the process", urging authorities in a statement to restore communications.

The European Union refused to send election observers to monitor the election saying conditions had not been met for a transparent and democratic vote. Congo's former colonial ruler France - which has significant business interests in Congo - also criticized the vote.

"This vote took place in a worrying context, particularly due to the cut in communications," France's foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said. "France is being vigilant and recalls its commitment to transparency and fairness in the electoral process."

Opposition sets up parallel commission

Mokoko and Kolelas - along with the three other opposition candidates - have created their own parallel "technical commission" to monitor the vote and compile information from polling stations to compare it to the official results.

They said they could say "with certainty" that the opposition had beat Nguesso in the first round and that a second-round election should be held.

But as authorities imposed a communications blackout to prevent opposition candidates from publishing "illegal results" it was difficult to contact the opposition figures. The government has said the blackout would remain in place until after the official results.

Congo recorded growth of 5 percent in recent years but remains plagued by widespread poverty with most people living in abject poverty. Unemployment hit 34 percent in 2013, the last data available, and stood at 60 percent for 15 to 24-year-olds.

jar/jil (AFP, Reuters)

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