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Congo Opposition Leader Claims Victory on Low Referendum Turnout

Military personnel vote at a polling station in Brazzaville, Congo, October 25, 2015.

An opposition leader is claiming victory in Sunday’s Republic of Congo referendum because of what he said was very poor turnout. Guy Kinfoussia Romain, president of the Union for Democracy and Republic party, said the Congolese people heeded the opposition’s call to stay at home because the referendum is an illegal means to keep President Denis Sassou-Nguesso in power.

President Nguesso has ruled Congo in different capacities for most of the past 36 years. The current constitution would have prevented him from contesting the 2016 election because of his age. But the 71-year-old Nguesso called the referendum to change the constitution to allow him to run for a third term.

Opposition claims low turnout

Romain said about three percent of the population turned out in Sunday’s referendum. He said the international community must help the Congolese people to stop President Nguesso from changing the constitution.

“The vote was bad. Three percent turnout and 97 percent stayed at home. The people listened to stay at home. We don’t accept for three percent of the population to change the constitution,” he said.

Romain said President Nguesso must step down and organize a new election.

An official of Republic of Congo's ruling Congolese Labor Party told VOA it was the Congolese people who had demanded a constitutional review, not President Nguesso.

Serge Michel Odzoki, spokesman for the ruling party, said the government welcomes the demonstrations because they are a part of the democratic process as long as they do not turn violent. He said the majority of Congolese people want to change the current constitution while the opposition wants to wait until after the 2016 election.

Opposition vow protests will continue

Romain said the Congolese will continue to protest and boycott work even if the referendum is approved.

“We will continue to fight; we will continue to stay at home, to don’t work; we will continue to manifest until a new constitution is written,” Romain said.

He called for international help to pressure President Nguesso to not change the constitution and to step down.

Other African leaders fighting to stay in office

President Nguesso is the latest in a string of African leaders who have tried to prolong their stay in office, often in the face of opposition protests.

Burkina Faso's longtime president Blaise Compaore was toppled by a popular uprising last year after parliament attempted to change term limits in the constitution.

Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza was elected to a third term in July but only after violent street demonstrations and a failed coup attempt.

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda is also seeking to change the constitution to stay in office.