Congo Republic votes to decide on third term for president

Voting commences in Brazzaville in referendum to decide on third term for incumbent president.

BRAZZAVILLE, CONGO (OCTOBER 25, 2015) (REUTERS) – Congo Republic voted on Sunday (October 25) in a referendum to determine whether 71-year-old President Denis Sassou Nguesso can legally stand for a third consecutive term in next year’s election.

Sassou Nguesso is the latest long-serving African president to pursue legal action to prolong his grip on power. Several other such bids have provoked violence, and four died in Congo last week when security forces opened fire on protesters.

Opposition calls for a boycott and lack of voting materials combined to reduce voting to a trickle at many polling stations in the capital, witnesses said. In some places, the only voters were members of the security forces.

But that did not appear to deter some who were eager to vote.

“Things have been going well. But now if people don’t want to vote, and like we said if they don’t want to come… Those who want to come will come,” said one unidentified individual in Brazzaville.

Sassou Nguesso has ruled the oil-producing country for 31 of the past 36 years and is expected to stand if permitted. He won disputed elections in 2002 and 2009, and under the present constitution term limits and his age bar him from running again.

“Today is a very important day for the Congolese people, because they will show the world that they are a free people, a sovereign people, and that when it comes to question that affects their lives, and their future, they are the only people that can decide,” Sassou Nguesso said as he voted in Brazzaville.

“The negative forces that tried to disturb the peace that has been hard won by our people, those negative forces will be defeated. First of all if the opposition asks its supporter not to vote, that could transform into tension. It would have been better for them to express their disapproval at the ballot box. It would have been better to say no through the vote,” he added.

Dozens of residents moved from southern neighbourhoods of Brazzaville to other areas on Saturday (October 24) to avoid possible conflict, although several said they were worried they would not be able to vote as a result.

Others complained they had not received voter cards. Some people held up signs with the word “no” in protest at the vote. Analysts have warned of further violence.

With voter turnout said to be low in the capital, some residents said that they did not want to participate in what they saw as a sham election.

“At which point was the population consulted on this referendum? We don’t know, we don’t understand. From what we read in the constitution, even the bible tells us don’t kill, don’t steal. But now we are being told that even if someone kills, they cannot be prosecuted. It’s really terrible for us,” said one unidentified Brazzaville resident.

“You are journalists, you have walked around, you have seen the polling station, and you saw that there was no one. So they (the authorities) know why those people have not gone to vote. Voting is a civic duty but what’s happening here, even if you paid people millions, they would not touch those ballot papers,” said another resident, Joseph Noumazayi.

Results are not expected for several days.

The legal changes offer a challenge for Western governments: they can endorse veteran leaders or press for term limits. Congo is a former French colony and President Francois Hollande said last week Sassou Nguesso had the right to consult his people.