Opposition politicians are right to call the election on March 20 in the Republic of Congo an “electoral holdup.” President Denis Sassou-Nguesso, who has ruled the country for 32 of the past 37 years, did everything in his power to ensure he would be elected again, including ordering a cellphone and Internet blackout as voters headed to the polls — apparently an attempt to prevent information from circulating on voter turnout and possible fraud. Official results gave Mr. Sassou-Nguesso over 60 percent of the vote. The opposition complained of widespread fraud, the American State Department expressed “concerns about the credibility of the process” and the European Union lamented “a foreseeable lack of independence and transparency in the elections.”
Last Thursday, a reporter from the French newspaper Le Monde and two journalists from Agence France-Presse were beaten up by plainclothes police officers and had their equipment confiscated as they left a news conference by the opposition candidate Gen. Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko. This kind of thuggish behavior, aimed at silencing complaints about the election, is unacceptable in a country that claims to be a democracy.
Mr. Sassou-Nguesso has been accused of running a rampantly corrupt and nepotistic government that has used the country’s oil wealth to enrich a small elite while delivering scant benefits to a poor population. When the 72-year-old leader ordered a referendum last October to remove age and term limits on the Republic of Congo’s presidency, thousands took to the streets of the capital, Brazzaville, in protest. The government responded with tear gas and lethal force. Several people were killed, and opposition leaders were arrested.