Congo expects contested presidential poll results

Congo finished counting votes on Monday after an poll expected to extend veteran President Denis Sassou Nguesso’s rule, amid calls for a re-run by foes who claimed the turnout was below 10 percent.

“The counting has ended, we now centralize the results,” Territorial Administration Minister Raymond Mboulou told AFP.

Mboulou said he had no precise date for the publication of the results, but added it could be “tonight, tomorrow or the day after.”

“We must be patient,” he said.

Congo’s opposition late Sunday called for a re-run of the election on the grounds that the turnout was less than 10 percent, but Mboulou would not comment on this claim.

Government spokesman Alain Akouala Atipault said the figure was “ludicrous” since the turnout had been high outside the capital, but he gave no estimate.

“We’ll wait a couple of hours for a trend. But we see a stronger turnout of voters in the country at large than in the cities,” he said.

The spokesman, who is also communication minister, said a first trend could be published later Monday.

A statement from half of the 12 candidates up against Sassou Nguesso — who has ruled the oil-rich but impoverished central African nation on and off since 1979 — said more than 90 percent of the electorate had shunned Sunday’s ballot.

“The Congolese people have clearly expressed themselves with this record abstention of more than 90 percent.

“By this strong rate of abstention, the Congolese who love justice and peace have expressed their rejection of this totalitarian, arrogant and corrupt regime,” it said, alleging massive rigging and vote-buying.

“Soldiers close to the incumbent president … voted several times in different polling stations” and officials distributed money “urging the population to vote,” it said.

The government immediately rejected the charge.

“The opposition declarations of massive fraud are incorrect and do not hold,” Akouala Atipault had said Sunday.

“We cannot speak of fraud when we had 170 international observers on the ground,” he added.

If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote, a second round will be held.

Sixty-six-year-old Sassou Nguesso is seeking a new seven-year term, supported by a wide grouping of parties in the Presidential Majority Assembly, against 12 other candidates.

He has ruled Congo for almost 25 years, having held power from 1979 to 1992 and returned to the presidency in 1997 after a civil war.

Sassou Nguesso was re-elected in 2002 in a vote that international observers said fell short of democratic standards. African Union observers also cited fraud and irregularities in parliamentary and local elections in 2007 and 2008.

Despite an abundance of oil and timber, its principal exports, 70 percent of Congo’s inhabitants still live below the poverty line.

Some 2.2 million Congolese were officially eligible to vote out of a total population of 3.6 million.


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