BRAZZAVILLE: The Republic of Congo opposition candidate Guy-Brice Parfait Kolelas died of Covid-19 as he was being transferred to France for treatment, his campaign director said Monday, the day after presidential elections in which he was the main challenger.
Kolelas was seen as the main rival to veteran leader Denis Sassou Nguesso, who was expected to win Sunday’s vote. The election was boycotted by the main opposition and under an internet blackout, with critics voicing concerns over the transparency of the polls seen as tilted towards Sassou Nguesso.
Kolelas died in the medical aircraft which had gone to pick him from Brazzaville on Sunday afternoon. According to his campaign manager Christian Rodrigue Mayanda, the 60-year-old tested positive for Covid-19 on Friday afternoon, and was unable to host his last campaign meeting in Brazzaville.
On Saturday, he posted a video from his sickbed, declaring he was battling against death. “Rise up as one person… I’m fighting on my deathbed, you too fight for your change,” he urged his supporters, saying the election was about the future of children. Mayanda called on supporters of Kolelas to rally at 11 am local time (1000 GMT).
Kolelas came second in the presidential election of 2016, picking up 15 percent of the vote according to official results. He had pledged to release the two candidates from that vote sentenced in 2018 to 20 years in prison for undermining state security, former army general Jean- Marie Michel Mokoko and ex-minister Andre Okombi Salissa. He was reportedly the only serious contender left facing the president on Sunday after a string of boycotts, withdrawn candidacies and exclusions.
There were no reports of major incidents before polling stations closed, but access to the internet and social media, as well as text messages, was cut. In some areas voters complained that their names were not on the electoral list. Sassou Nguesso, 77, a former paratrooper, first rose to power in 1979 and has since accumulated 36 years in office, making him one of the world’s longest-serving leaders.
The largest opposition group, the Pan-African Union for Social Democracy or UPADS, is boycotting the poll in which some 2.5 million people are eligible to vote. UPADS – the group of former president Pascal Lissouba, who died in France last August — is the only opposition party to have a parliamentary group in the current national assembly.
Flanked by its giant neighbour the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as Gabon, the former French colony has abundant oil reserves and most of its budget comes from petroleum revenue. Civil war – But its economy is in a slump, hurt by a collapse in world crude prices, long- standing debt, and the pandemic, as well as a reputation for corruption.
After first coming to power in 1979, Sassou Nguesso was forced to introduce multi-party elections in 1991 and was defeated at the ballot box a year later. But he returned to power in 1997 following a prolonged civil war. He has won every election since, which the opposition have mostly slammed as fraudulent. A constitutional amendment in 2015, which ended a ban on presidential candidates aged over 70 and scrapped a two-term limit, allowed him to run again in 2016.