Congo candidates challenge ‘totally false’ vote results

Several candidates in the Republic of Congo on Thursday contested election results that saw President Denis Sassou Nguesso sweep back to power with an overwhelming majority.

According to official figures, the former military ruler won 1,055,117 of the 1,342,242 votes cast in Sunday’s poll, or 78.61 percent.

The government said the turnout was 66.42 percent.

These figures are “totally false,” according to Guy Romain Kinfoussia, who led the United Front of Opposition Parties (FUPO) and called for a boycott of the poll with five of the 12 other opposition candidates.

“They come from post-electoral manipulation,” Kinfoussia said, accusing the authorities of fraud on behalf of the former military ruler, who returned to power after civil war in 1997 and has run the Congo for 25 years.

“I don’t recognise the results of this election,” said Michel Marion Mandzimba Ehouango, an independent candidate who also sought a boycott.

“We now reserve the right to go to the Constitutional Court.”

But he added that he regretted that this institution was “also at the orders of the regime.”

The government refutes all allegations of cheating, while small teams of international observers gave the presidential poll a clean bill of health, unlike domestic observer teams.

The row particularly concerns the turnout and has led to heated exchanges since the polls closed on Sunday, when the opposition announced what it saw as “record abstention” of more than 90 percent and authorities reported that the turnout had been high.

The official rate of participation is “exaggerated,” according to the Congolese Observatory of Human Rights (OCDH), which argued that turnout reached a maximum of 20 percent and deployed 47 observers on polling day.

The government is “totally unrealistic. I don’t believe it at all,” said a dissenting member of one of the two African observer teams, who asked not to be named.

“We were on the ground and we saw clearly how things happened,” the official added. “At Dolisie (in the west, the third largest town), for instance, one voter in eight cast a ballot, according to what we saw.”

This rate of abstention raises “the problem of the legitimacy of the elected” Sassou Nguesso, stressed OCDH executive director Roger Bouka Owoko, but the head of state outlasted similar allegations of cheating when he was last elected in 2002.

Bouka Owoko said it was up to Sassou Nguesso “at last to work for the Congolese. He must assume his responsibilities.”

The opposition, for its part, should “learn the lessons (and) constitute an alternative force,” he added.

The government spokesman, Alain Akouala Atipault, dismissed all allegations, stating that “the published results are of course those that came out of the ballot boxes.”

An independent candidate who finished a distant second, Joseph Kignoumbi Kia Mboungou, said that he would abide by the results, even if there “were perhaps some failings,” and he hailed the lack of violence during the vote.

He also raised the issue of abstentions, saying that “everyone’s talking about it” and “that might be justified by the fact that there was a call for a boycott … There are also citizens who are no longer interested in voting.”

A highly placed official in Brazzaville, who asked not to be named, told AFP in an interview that the “credibility of the newly elected” leader depended on the turnout.

This source also expressed doubts about the official figures but wondered whether a low turnout was due to “failures of administration” that prevented some from voting or the absence of candidates with a profile to match up to Sassou Nguesso.


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