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Few Problems Reported in Congo-Brazzaville Referendum - 2002-01-20


No major problems have been reported during a referendum on a new constitution in the Republic of Congo Brazzaville. The main opposition party has called for supporters to boycott the referendum, saying it could give too much power to the president.

More than 1.5 million Congolese voters are giving their verdict on a new constitution. If approved, it would give substantial new powers to the President of the Republic.

Polling stations opened early Sunday, but technical problems, such as lack of ink at some stations and confusion over voting lists at others, meant voters had to wait in line for several hours in some constituencies before votes were cast.

In Makelekele, a southern district of Brazzaville and constituency of former prime minister Bernard Kolelas, many voters complained their names were missing from the lists.

Mr. Kolelas called for his supporters to boycott the referendum. Other opposition figures asked their backers to vote against the proposals. They say the new constitution would install a kind of monarchy in the Congo and allow the president to steal the country's petrol wealth.

The ruling party rejects these arguments, saying the reform would ensure peace and bring an end to instability.

Under the new proposals, the post of prime minister would be ended and parliament, as it now stands, would no longer exist.

Instead of a prime minister there would be an elected president, with a seven-year, one-time renewable mandate. In place of parliament there would be a bicameral assembly with a House of Representatives and a Senate.

The president would have the right to nominate and dismiss ministers. The new assembly would no longer have the power to remove the president from office, as the current parliament can.

President Denis Sassou Nguesso seized power in 1997, ousting the elected president, Pascal Lissouba. Since then, the country has only had a provisional constitution.

If the new constitution is accepted, presidential, legislative, local and senatorial elections are to be held between March and June.

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