Congo Republic President Denis Sassou Nguesso looks set to prolong his decades-long rule in an election on Sunday in which he has pledged to revive the flagging economy.
Sassou, a 77-year old former paratrooper, rose to power in the oil-producing country on the western coast of central Africa in a military coup in 1979. He lost Congo’s first multi-party elections in 1992 but regained power in 1997 after a civil war and has now ruled for a combined total of almost 37 years.
Sassou will face six opposition candidates in an election whose run-up has been tightly controlled by his government and drawn criticism from the influential Catholic Church and rights activists.
Known as ‘emperor’ by some of his African peers because of his longevity and role as a regional elder statesman, Sassou has said he will use all his experience to revive the debt-ridden economy if he wins another five years in power.
An 8% fall in gross domestic product (GDP) last year was due to the impact of COVID-19 and a collapse in world oil prices, but GDP is expected to grow by less than 1% this year.
“The people need men with experience, and I’m putting all my experience in service of the youths of our country,” he said on the campaign trail.
His main challenger is Guy-Brice Parfait Kolelas, a former minister who was second in the last, disputed election in 2016 with 15% of votes. The candidates who came third and fifth were later arrested and convicted of illegally possessing weapons.
Kolelas promised to bring change and tackle endemic corruption, but political analysts say he stands little chance against Sassou whose loyalists control all big institutions.
If no candidate wins more than 50% of the votes, the top two will face a run-off.