Congo Brazzaville’s Sassou Nguesso was re-elected with more than 88% of the vote, showing early results

Veteran President of the Republic of Congo Denis Sassou Nguesso was re-elected with 88.57 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results released on Tuesday.

Sassou Nguesso, 77, has been in power for a cumulative 36 years and first took the helm of the Central African state in 1979.

His huge victory in the first round, announced by the Interior Minister with reference to figures from the Electoral Commission, had been widely expected.

Sunday’s vote had been boycotted by the main opposition and overshadowed by the death of Covid by Sassou Nguesso’s only major rival, Guy-Brice Parfait Kolelas, 61, who garnered 7.84 percent of the vote.

Turnout was 67.55 percent.

One of the world’s longest-serving rulers, Sassou Nguesso, has long been accused by critics of authoritarian rule and closes his eyes to corruption, poverty and inequality despite the country’s oil wealth.

Death of the rival

Kolelas, the son of a former prime minister who was a leading government critic, died aboard a medical plane that flew him to Paris on election day, said his campaign director Christian Cyr Rodrigue Mayanda.

Kolelas initially thought he had malaria, but later discovered it was COVID-19, a friend told him.

He posted a video from his hospital bed explaining that he was “fighting to the death” and urged followers to “rise as a person.”

Mathias Dzon, a former finance minister who took 1.9 percent of the vote, announced Monday that he would sue the Constitutional Court to overturn the vote, which he described as “catastrophic.”

On election day, access to the internet and social media, as well as text messages, were cut, while in the center of the capital Brazzaville, shops were closed and only security vehicles were seen.

In some areas, voters complained that their names were not on the electoral roll.

The victory, which puts Sassou Nguesso on course for another five-year term, marks his fourth election victory since 2002.

The former paratrooper first came to power in 1979.

He served for three presidential terms until he was forced to introduce multi-party elections in 1991 and was defeated in the ballot box the following year.

But he returned to power in 1997 after a long civil war.

No limits

In 2015, a constitutional amendment ended a ban on presidential candidates over the age of 70 and scrapped a two-time limit, allowing him to run again.

“Why has it been this Stalinist result?” said a senior government member to AFP and commented anonymously on Sunday’s results.

In the 2016 vote, Sassou Nguesso was re-elected in the first round with 60 percent of the vote, against 15 percent for Kolelas, after a much tougher campaign.

This time, Sassou Nguesso presented himself as a defender of Congolese youth – the average age of the country’s five million people is 19 – and outlined plans to develop agriculture to alleviate dependence on food imports.

Flanked by its gigantic neighbor Democratic Republic of Congo and Gabon, the former French colony – also known as Congo-Brazzaville – has abundant oil reserves and most of its budget comes from oil revenues.

But its economy is in decline, damaged by a collapse in world commodity prices and by a mountain of debt.