Opposition seethes in Congo as 77-year-old president seeks another term
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By Lisa VIVES
DENIS Sassou Nguesso, president of the Republic of Congo, has declared his intention to seek yet another term in office. He has held that position for 36 years, making him one of the longest-serving presidents in Africa. Elections are scheduled for March 21.
He faces seven challengers, though the main opposition party says it will boycott the event. They faulted the president for the short run-up to the polls.
‘’Can’t the elections be postponed for two or three months to allow time for the competent bodies to organise the pre-election operations?’’, Crepin Gouala, leader of the opposition Alliance pour l’République a la d démocratie (ARD), asked.
For independent candidate, Pandi Ngouari, “this kind of injustice is imposed on us by the same generation as a soccer team that trains for years even though we are aware that the referee is not always fair, but we are forced to go and beat this team on its own field with its own referee.’’
Ruling party members defended the choice of the 77-year-old leader. “We said the choice of Denis Sassou Nguesso is an inevitable choice,” party leader Leonidas Mottom told the French news agency AFP.
“It’s the choice of change in continuity, it’s the choice of stability and the choice of peace,” said Mottom.
Sassou Nguesso’s political history has been marked by controversy. After coming to power in 1979, he headed a single-party regime for 12 years.
Political pluralism was introduced in 1991 and the following year Sassou Nguesso lost his presidential bid. He returned to power in October 1997 after his rebel forces ousted the president at the time, Pascal Lissouba of UPADS, and a two-year civil war ensued.
Presidential elections were held in 2002 that Sessou Nguesso controversially won. He was re-elected in July 2009 in a poll boycotted by the main opposition candidates.
A new constitution, approved by referendum, enabled him to stand again in 2016, and he won by a first-round majority, a result that again was contested by the opposition.
His re-election in 2016 triggered unrest in Brazzaville and armed conflict in the fertile region of Pool that cut off freight trains on the vital rail line between the capital and Pointe-Noire.
President Nguesso’s rivals in 2016, former general Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko and former minister Andre Okombi Salissa, remain in jail today.
They had disputed the election results, were then arrested, put on trial and each handed 20 years in jail on charges of undermining state security.
Concern is growing in the Congo over the nation’s deep economic crisis triggered by the slump in oil prices and worsened by long-standing debt.