CONGO strongman Denis Sassou Nguesso has extended his 32 years in power, winning presidential elections in the first round with 60% of the vote, the interior minister said Thursday.
Interior minister Raymond Zephyrin Mboulou announced the results on national television at 3:30 am (0230 GMT) following a tense weekend poll held under a communications blackout.
The official count gave Guy-Brice Parfait Kolelas 15% of the vote while General Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko came in third with 14%.
Oil- and timber-rich Congo has been on edge since an October constitutional referendum that ended a two-term limit on presidential mandates, allowing the 72-year-old former paratrooper colonel to run for office again.
The long-serving leader has ruled the country for all but five years since 1979—Sassou Nguesso was in exile in Paris from 1992 to 1997—and is accused by critics of rampant corruption and nepotism and of stifling democracy.
Authorities imposed a communications blackout during the vote to prevent opposition candidates from publishing “illegal results”. A government source said they would remain suspended until after the official results were announced.
On Wednesday, the two opposition candidates rejected partial results released by the national electoral commission, which gave the country’s long-time ruler 67% of votes.
“How do you want us to accept such a result?” General Mokoko said, calling for a recount.
“I knew beforehand that the dice were loaded, but we had agreed to play the game,” said the general, a former ally of Sassou Nguesso who quit as his advisor on peace and security in February.
Kolelas’ spokesman Vivien Manangou said Sassou Nguesso’s reelection was part of a “massive fraud”, describing the results as “magic”.
Mokoko and Kolelas, along with the three other opposition candidates, have urged people to “exercise their sovereignty” in the event of a Sassou Nguesso victory.
They created their own parallel “technical commission” to monitor the vote and compile information from polling stations to compare it to the official results.
The European Union refused to send election observers to monitor the weekend polls, saying conditions had not been met for a transparent and democratic vote.
The international community has since expressed concern over the fairness of the vote and called for the opposing sides to resolve their differences calmly.
“This vote took place in a worrying context, particularly due to the cut in communications. France is being vigilant and recalls its commitment to transparency and fairness in the electoral process,” said France’s foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal.
The EU called on all sides to use legal routes to sort out disagreements over the results and urged the authorities to open communication lines again.
Congo recorded growth of five percent over the five years to 2014 but remains in dire straits, with the vast majority of the population living in abject poverty.
Unemployment hit 34% in 2013, the last data available, and stood at 60% for 15 to 24-year-olds. The IMF fears “domestic instability” without progress in the battle to eliminate poverty.
Sassou Nguesso served as president from 1979 to 1992 and returned to power in 1997 following a civil war. He won two successive mandates in 2002 and 2009, but both tallies were contested by opposition parties.