Low voter turnout ‘slap’ to leader’s bid to extend rule

Brazaville, October 26

Low voter turnout at a weekend referendum to enable Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso to extend his 31-year stay in office was “a slap in the face” for the longtime leader, the opposition said today.

“He’s just had a slap in the face, the Congolese refused to vote,” Pascal Tsaty Mabiala of the country’s biggest parliamentary opposition party, the UPADS, told AFP.

Mabiala estimated turnout yesterday at only around 10 percent, saying this showed that voters had followed the opposition’s calls to boycott a referendum they described as “a constitutional coup d’etat”.

There was no official word on turnout, but initial observations suggested the numbers were low at some polling stations in the capital and other major cities in the small west African country.

“There were no crowds or enthusiasm,” said a source in city hall at Ouesso in the north.

“A good number of voters didn’t show up,” a military source told AFP in the city of Owando.

Polling stations visited by AFP correspondents in Brazzaville throughout the day showed no waiting line of voters, except near the presidential palace where Sassou Nguesso, one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, cast his own ballot.

Congo was rocked by protests in the run-up to the referendum, including clashes between opposition demonstrators and security forces in Brazzaville and the economic capital Pointe-Noire that authorities say left four people dead.