On March 20th the Republic of Congo held presidential elections considered flawed; marred by widespread irregularities, a media blackout during the polls, an imbalanced and restrictive media environment, significant disparity in access to state resources, a short time frame for electoral preparations, and restrictions on freedoms of expression, communication, and association in the pre-election period.
In this political environment President Denis Sassou Nguesso, won a third, five-year term in office in an election that officially gave him 60 percent of the vote. .
Mr. Nguesso, who is 72 years old, decided to run for a third Presidential term in fall of 2015. Under the country’s constitution, Mr. Nguesso was not eligible to run for a third term, and was also disqualified due to his age. In order to remove these obstacles, his government proposed changes to the country’s constitution that would enable him to run for a third term.
On October 25th of last year, the Congolese government held a deeply flawed referendum to alter the country’s constitution, despite massive protests on October 20th and 21st that turned bloody when security forces opened fire into crowds of protestors, media outlets reporting dozens killed or injured. The ruling party then announced that the referendum had passed with nearly 93 percent of the vote.
Tensions rose as the opposition disputed the results of the referendum, but another protest planned by the opposition for October 30th, was cancelled since the ban on protests had not been lifted and opposition leaders feared more blood-letting among their supporters.
A similar fate befell a press conference planned for March 25th, during which the opposition planned to announce the results of its parallel vote count. The event was disrupted and then cancelled when police used tear gas to disperse the crowd of opposition supporters and arrested many of them.
Weeks after the government announced President Sassou’s victory in the presidential election, violence has escalated in the capital. Heavy shooting and clashes between security forces and the opposition have led hundreds of residents of southern Brazzaville to flee their homes on foot toward the calmer north of the city.
“The United States is profoundly disappointed by the flawed presidential electoral process in the Republic of Congo,” said State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner in a written statement.
“The United States calls upon the Congolese Government to correct these numerous deficiencies before scheduling legislative elections in order to bring credibility to future electoral processes. We continue to urge the Congolese Government to respect the people’s constitutional rights of freedom of expression, movement, and association. We further encourage all parties to engage in constructive, inclusive dialogue.”