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Sassou-Nguesso wins in peaceful landslide

Denis Sassou-Nguesso has been elected president of the Republic of Congo (ROC) for the next seven years, having garnered over 89 percent of the vote, Minister of the Interior Pierre Oba announced on Wednesday evening. This was the first time Sassou-Nguesso has been elected to the presidency, an office he first seized in 1979 and held until 1992, and then seized again in 1997 and has held until the present day. "My dear countrymen, through this important process, which took place in an exemplary climate of serenity and tranquillity, you have affirmed your strong desire to live in a united, free, democratic and peaceful Congo," Sassou-Nguesso said on Wednesday. "You have chosen me, you have elected me by a significant majority in this first round of voting, as you had promised me. But this victory is above all yours - the Congolese people." Former Prime Minister Andre Milongo, considered to be Sassou-Nguesso's main challenger, withdrew from the race on Friday, 8 March, claiming irregularities. He urged his supporters to boycott the elections, but cautioned against resorting to violence. Meanwhile, former President Pascal Lissouba, who defeated Sassou-Nguesso in the country's last presidential election, held in 1992, and former Prime Minister Bernard Kolelas, were barred from entering the race by the revised constitution, which requires candidates to have resided continuously in the country for at least two years before the election. Both are living abroad in exile, having been tried and convicted in absentia for crimes allegedly committed during civil war that plagued the nation throughout the 1990s. The six remaining challengers posed little threat, according to regional analysts. To these remaining challengers - none of whom captured more than three percent of the vote - Sassou-Nguesso said: "I would like to take this opportunity to cordially honour and sincerely congratulate the other candidates, who, by their serious, honest and loyal participation [in this election], have honoured our nation and our young democracy." The results, complete but provisional, must now be certified by the Supreme Court. Joaquim Miranda, head of a European Union (EU) election observer mission in the ROC, praised the peaceful conditions in which voting took place, saying it "demonstrated that the Congolese people, the candidates and the authorities were committed to turn their backs definitively on violence". However, he reported "a significant number of irregularities, essentially of an administrative nature, throughout the country". Nevertheless, he noted that these instances were "for the most part resolved by authorities in a spirit of enabling the majority of people to vote". He said the EU team would produce a final report containing its conclusions on the elections and recommendations for improvement of the electoral process in the ROC. He also said the mission was "of the opinion that the EU should remain involved in the transition process of the Congo and assist the Congolese authorities in the improvement of electoral activities, notably population census, voter registration, electoral law, and practical matters regarding the organisation and implementation of elections". The Economist Intelligence Unit was less nuanced in its criticism. "The government's refusal to establish an independent election body to oversee the voting certainly suggests that President Sassou-Nguesso was determined to stay in power by fair means or foul; at the same time, however, much of the population is prepared to accept this as the price of peace, deeming a massaged election result preferable to an internationally unrecognised government or, worse, a re-fragmentation of military power," the EIU said on Tuesday. Sassou-Nguesso, 59, first seized power in a 1979 military coup. Following his defeat to Lissouba in 1992, he again seized power in October 1997, in advance of elections in which he was due to oppose Lissouba. Sassou-Nguesso, in turn, faced a rebellion launched by militias loyal to Lissouba and Kolelas in 1998. Civil war displaced up to one-third of the ROC's 3.1 million residents and left some 10,000 dead. Cease-fire agreements were signed by all sides at the end of 1999. The ROC, an oil-rich country bordering the much larger Democratic Republic of the Congo, is a former French colony that gained independence in 1960.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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