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

President Denis Sassou N’Guesso is widely expected to extend his 36 years in power

Loading the player...

Republic of Congo pressed ahead Sunday 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 was flown to France after suffering COVID-19 complications.

The watchdog group NetBlocks reported an internet blackout that began in the Central African country around midnight on election day.

After casting his ballot, Sassou N’Guesso said the government was aware of opposition candidate Guy Brice Parfait Kolelas’ illness and had taken the steps necessary for him to be transferred to France for further treatment.

Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou NGuesso arrives at the North Portico of the White House for a State Dinner on the occasion of the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit, August 5, 2014 in Washington, DC. African leaders are attending a three-day-long summit in Washington to strengthen ties between the United States and African nations. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Aides confirmed the medical evacuation flight bringing Kolelas to a French hospital took off from Brazzaville on Sunday afternoon.

Elira Dokekias, who heads Republic of Congo’s pandemic response, said Kolelas had been in serious condition on Saturday evening but that the candidate’s condition was stable ahead departure.

Read More: More than 50 killed at collapsed gold mine in eastern Congo: ‘Kamituga is in mourning’

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.”

Kolelas placed second to Sassou N’Guesso in the country’s 2016 presidential election with about 15% of the vote. The opposition figure has been particularly critical of the incumbent leader in recent days, declaring that Republic of Congo had become “a police state.”

Read More: Biden says Russia’s Putin will ‘pay a price’ for election meddling

Sassou N’Guesso is the third-longest serving president in Africa, ruling from 1979-1992 and then again since 1997 in this nation often overshadowed by its vast neighbor Congo.

Republic of Congo has had fewer than 10,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, with 134 confirmed deaths.

Have you subscribed to theGrio’s podcast “Dear Culture”? Download our newest episodes now!

TheGrio is now on Apple TV, Amazon Fire, and Roku. Download theGrio today!

Loading the player...

Share