Voters in the Republic of Congo go to the polls on Sunday in legislative elections, the first since violence-marred presidential polls last year which returned Denis Sassou Nguesso to power.
While no fresh violence is expected, opposition parties have cried foul, as over two million voters are expected to cast their ballots in the first round of polling to elect National Assembly members as well as local councils.
Sassou Nguesso returned to office in March last year after a constitutional referendum ended a two-term presidential term limit, amid deadly violence notably in the Pool region neighbouring capital Brazzaville.
On Sunday, the 73-year-old president’s ruling Congolese Labour Party (PCT) is running 128 candidates for the 151 seats available, while several independent candidates have close ties to the party.
The main parliamentary opposition group, the Pan-African Union for Social Democracy (UPADS), has put forward 43 candidates, compared to 31 run by the UDH-Yuki group of Guy-Brice Parfait Kolelas, who came second in the presidentials last year.
But an opposition coalition comprising the IDC, the FROCAD and the CJ3M has said it will only take part under certain circumstances, including « the end of the crisis in Pool and the release of all political prisoners ».
Two leaders of the coalition, Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko and Andre Okombi Salissa, were arrested and jailed in June 2016 and in January this year « for threatening the internal security of the state ».
However, the head of the Independent National Election Commission (CNEI), Henri Bouka, insisted voting will be held nationwide, including in Pool.
« No [constituency] will be left out, » said Bouka.