Citizens in the Republic of Congo took to the polls to elect a new president Sunday, in a contest that was expected to return President Denis Sassou Nguesso to power — a man who has served in the position for 32 years. The vote took place amid a media blackout, as observers warned that the vote would not be conducted fairly.
"I'm not confident. I see already that our voices are being stolen. The real results will not be given," one voter told Reuters Sunday.
The ruling government announced a 48-hour media blackout in the two days leading up to Sunday's vote that included shutting down telephone, SMS and internet services. Authorities said the reason for the ban was to prevent illegal sharing of false results, while others criticized the ban as undemocratic. The government also placed a ban on the use of motor vehicles, except for drivers with written, authorized permission.
The vote took place just six months after a referendum removed a two-limit for presidents and changed an age limit clause that prohibited candidates over the age of 70 from being elected (Nguesso is 72). The disputed results of the constitutional changes passed with 94.3 percent of support, in a move the opposition called a “constitutional coup.” Rioting broke out following the results of the referendum, and several people were killed.
While Nguesso faces eight opponents in voting Sunday, he is widely favored to win and hold onto his title as one of the five longest-ruling leaders in Africa. Retired General Jean-Marie Mokoko is among the eight challengers and is considered the strongest candidate within the opposition candidates.
The population of the oil-rich nation has continued to suffer high levels of poverty and soaring unemployment. Unemployment was at 34 percent overall and 60 percent among 15-24 year-olds, according to the most recent data in 2013, Agence-France Presse reported.
"We're really disappointed about what's happening in Congo," 20-year-old student Yette told AFP, adding, "Most young people have diplomas but no work."