Congolese voters went to the polls on Sunday for the first round of legislative elections expected to maintain an overwhelming majority for allies of longtime President Denis Sassou Nguesso. The oil-rich central African country has been open to multiparty politics since 1991 but wracked by two civil wars in which Sassou Nguesso, an army colonel who first came to power in 1979, played a prominent role. Voting got off to a late start in some parts of Brazzaville, but Sassou Nguesso, who cast his vote at midday near the presidential palace, sought to reassure the nation that everything was proceeding smoothly. “The instructions I had given for the elections to take place in peace, transparency, for them to be free, fair and credible, have for the most part been followed,” he said.
More than two million people are eligible to vote in the first round of the poll, but the dominance of Sassou Nguesso’s Congolese Labour Party (PCT) and its allies means there is not much election-day suspense in a country where half of the four million people live below the poverty line. Turnout was low at midday, but an international election observer said she believed the pace would pick up later in the day. “We suppose people haven’t yet gone out,” said Martine Logbo of GIDSE, an Ivory Coast-based election monitoring group. Election commission chief Henri Bouka told AFP that “everything is going normally”, though earlier in the day he had said some polling stations experienced equipment problems.