Voters in the oil-exporting Central African state of Congo Republic have turned out to elect a new parliament, with the ruling party of President Denis Sassou Nguesso and its allies seen holding the majority.
Opposition parties have complained about a lack of access to state media during campaigning, and voter turnout was thin at a number of polling stations in the capital Brazzaville, some of which stayed open up to two hours late during the voting on Sunday.
The ruling Congolese Workers’ Party (PCT) and a cluster of allied parties control all but a dozen of the nearly 140 seats in the lower house after the opposition boycotted the last poll in 2007, accusing the government of vote rigging.
Gaspard Kaya Magane, vice-president of the main UPADS opposition group, accused candidates allied to the government of using state media and resources to dominate the campaign for these elections, an accusation Nguesso rejected.
“I believe that the instructions I gave for fair, free and transparent elections have been followed because they passed peacefully across the country. That is a step in the right direction,” Nguesso said as he voted in Brazzaville.
Nguesso came to power in a 1997 coup and has won two elections since then, including a 2009 presidential vote marked by accusations of fraud. A constitutional limit on presidential terms means he must step down in 2016, although some opposition groups say they believe his party will seek to change that.
Njingum Musa Mbutoh, head of the African Union observer mission, told reporters: “The election went off normally, people were able to vote freely but as for the credibility of the vote, we will have to wait for the count and the turnout rate.”
About 2 million people were eligible to vote in the election. Results are expected in the coming days.
At one polling station in Brazzaville, poll official Nicaise Apembet said only 200 people had voted out of 527 registered.
Some said they had tried to cast their ballot but they did not find their name on the list of registered voters.
“And yet I received my voter’s card and this is where I have always voted,” Jean Pierre Elenga, a 52-year-old Brazzaville resident who was amongst those who were unable to vote, said.
Under Nguesso, Congo Republic has enjoyed a degree of stability since 1997. However, in March nearly 300 people were killed in a blast sparked by a fire at an arms dump in Brazzaville filled with munitions left over from the civil war.
The former French colony is expecting oil production at around 288,000 barrels per day this year, worth $5bn in revenue. The International Monetary Fund sees economic growth rising from 3.1 per cent this year to over 5 per cent in 2013.