Republic of Congo polls open; candidate sick with COVID-19

BRAZZAVILLE, REPUBLIC OF CONGO (AP) — Republic of Congo pressed ahead yesterday with an election in which President Denis Sassou N’Guesso is widely expected to extend his 36 years in power, while the leading opposition candidate remained hospitalised with COVID-19.

The watchdog group NetBlocks reported an Internet blackout that began in the Central African country around midnight on election day, and the government issued no statement on Guy Brice Parfait Kolelas’ illness.

While the constitution allows for an election to be delayed if a candidate is unable to participate in the vote, polling stations in Brazzaville opened at 8am as scheduled, observers said.

Kolelas, 61, had skipped his final campaign event on Friday after telling some reporters a day earlier that he feared he had malaria. A video circulating on social media Saturday showed Kolelas wearing an oxygen mask and with a blood pressure cuff on his arm as he lay in a hospital bed.

“My dear compatriots, I am in trouble. I am fighting death,” the candidate says in a weak-sounding voice after removing his oxygen mask. “However, I ask you to stand up and vote for change. I would not have fought for nothing.”

Campaign spokesman Cyr Mayanda told The Associated Press yesterday that Kolelas’ condition was stable, but that plans were underway for a medical evacuation to France for further treatment.

File photo shows supporters of opposition presidential candidate Guy Brice Parfait Kolelas cheering during their party’s last rally of the presidential campaign in Brazzaville, Congo. PHOTO: AP