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Delays, Protests, Problems Mar Congo Vote


Delays, protests and logistical problems are hampering the first round of legislative elections in the Republic of Congo. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from our West and Central Africa bureau in Dakar.

Throughout the Republic of Congo, voting centers opened late, electoral lists were incomplete, and would be voters were confused as to where they were supposed to go.

Many complained their names were missing from electoral lists where they thought they should be, or that they had never received a voting card, or that if they did their name was spelled wrong.

Instead they said they saw the names of dead people on voting lists. Would-be voters also witnessed outsiders, including children, coming to vote.

In the central town of Diambala, about 200 kilometers north of the capital Brazzaville, hundreds of youths surrounded the house of a local official to prevent the distribution of electoral equipment.

Dozens of parties are boycotting the process, and some candidates said they were pulling out because of the vote's mismanagement.

Major opposition parties competing include the Pan-African Union for Social Democracy led by former deposed President Pascal Lissouba, the Union for Democracy and the Republic, led by former Prime Minister Andre Milongo, and the Council of National Republicans, led by former rebel leader Frederic Bitsangou "Ntumi".

The ruling Congolese Work party of 1997 coup leader and President Denis Sassou Nguesso is expected to win most of the 137 seats being contested. It has made an alliance with long-standing rival and popular politician, Bernard Kolelas, who recently returned from exile.

Michelle Gavin, an international affairs fellow with the U.S-based Council on Foreign Relations, says she is not surprised at how the elections are taking place, but was hoping for better.

"I do not think it is possible to have a free and fair election that would meet international standards. I do think it is possible for Congo to make progress toward better elections and freer and more fair elections," said Gavin. "But no, the conditions are not in place today in terms of opposition access to the media, truly independent structures governing the electoral process, and appropriate and timely preparations to ensure the voters really have access to their own franchises and that the prospects for manipulation are minimal."

She also hopes a flawed election will not mean a return to violence.

"I am sure that the people of Congo are exhausted by violence. It is not at all clear that it is impossible. The country continues to be awash in arms, despite some efforts at demilitarization, and disarmament, and so I think it is a real concern," added Gavin. "I do not want to predict that this would happen. I certainly hope that it would not happen. I think the way to get to better governance in Congo is highly unlikely that the way forward is through more armed conflict."

A peace deal was signed in 2003, but former rebels, known as "Ninjas" continue to move around as criminals and thugs, scaring away civilians and sometimes threatening politicians in the oil-rich, but impoverished country.

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