Congo Republic’s Sassou set for easy re-election


Congo Republic’s President Denis Sassou-Nguesso is all but guaranteed to be re-elected for another seven years in an election on Sunday that the opposition wants delayed but the government will push through.

Although expectations are low, analysts say a peaceful poll in a nation where elections have previously led to armed conflict could encourage investors to diversify the economy in Africa’s No. 5 oil producer, which is mired by corruption allegations.

The run-up to the July 12 poll has been dominated by complaints by a plethora of opposition parties, who want the election delayed to iron out problems with the election commission, voter lists and the barring of some candidates.

But their wishes appear to have been largely ignored.

“Boycott or not, the election will take place,” Sassou-Nguesso said on the campaign trail this week.

“It will be held peacefully. We will not move on that.”

A coalition called the Congolese Front for Opposition Parties (FPCO), a loose grouping of some 18 political parties, has called on Congolese residents to start a campaign of disobedience to block the holding of the election.

However, the protests, meant to include the mass banging of cooking pans in the capital, Brazzaville, have largely flopped. Calls from leading opposition candidate Mathias Dzon for a new election commission have also fallen of deaf ears.

Sassou-Nguesso’s campaign has taken rallies, with their free T-shirts, hat and badges, across the country while the other 12 candidates have mustered just a few banners and barely ventured beyond the city’s outskirts.

“What was never a very well defined opposition has been splintered and fractured,” Antony Goldman, an independent risk consultant, told Reuters.

“It is a mixture of self destruction and clever politicking. There isn’t a great deal of confidence to challenge the president.”

MODEST EXPECTATIONS

Having come to power first in a 1979 coup, lost a 1992 poll and then returned when he re-took the capital by force in 1997, Sassou-Nguesso won Congo’s last election in 2002 after his key rivals were banned or withdrew, saying the poll was a sham.

Parliamentary elections in 2007 were widely criticised, with complaints also being made about the voter lists, which the opposition said included many dead people.

Rumours and fears of tensions spilling into violence have led to some Brazzaville residents leaving the capital and civil society groups calling for calm this week.

Although he has a tight grip on his country, Sassou-Nguesso is facing increasing pressure from external actors, He is one of three central African leaders targeted by a French judge probing the embezzlement of state funds earned from oil revenues.

Speculation over the circumstances surrounding the death of a Franco-Congolese journalist who had campaigned against corruption, have also fuelled allegations of rights abuses.

Congo’s government has also been involved in legal wrangles with creditors who have accused it of hiding oil revenues while refusing to pay its debts.

“Expectations are fairly modest. But (the election) is an opportunity for the authorities to improve their image, present something different, even if it is symbolic,” Goldman said.

“The election will have an influence on investment … Congo does need investment,” he added of an economy that remains reliant on the 220,000 barrels per day oil output.

One such investment due to be confirmed, pending the election, is a planned multi-million hectare land deal with South African farmers, which would be one of the largest such deals on the continent.

Reuters.com

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