Candidate has virus as Congo polls open

LOUIS OKAMBAAAP
Elections polls have opened in Republic of Congo but the top opposition candidate is in hospital.
Camera IconElections polls have opened in Republic of Congo but the top opposition candidate is in hospital.

Republic of Congo has pressed ahead with an election in which President Denis Sassou N'Guesso is widely expected to extend his 36 years in power, while the leading opposition candidate remains in hospital with COVID-19.

The watchdog group NetBlocks reported an internet blackout that began in the Central African country around midnight on election day on Sunday, and the government issued no statement on Guy Brice Parfait Kolelas' illness.

While the constitution allows for an election to be delayed if a candidate is unable to participate in the vote, polling stations in Brazzaville opened at 8am as scheduled, observers said.

Kolelas, 61, had skipped his final campaign event on Friday after telling some reporters a day earlier that he feared he had malaria. A video circulating on social media on Saturday showed Kolelas wearing an oxygen mask as he lay in a hospital bed.

"My dear compatriots, I am in trouble. I am fighting death," the candidate says in a weak-sounding voice after removing his oxygen mask.

"However, I ask you to stand up and vote for change. I would not have fought for nothing."

Campaign spokesman Cyr Mayanda said on Sunday that Kolelas' condition was stable, but that plans were underway for a medical evacuation to France for further treatment.

Kolelas placed second to Sassou N'Guesso in the country's 2016 presidential election with about 15 per cent of the vote. The opposition figure has been particularly critical of the incumbent leader in recent days, declaring that Republic of Congo had become "a police state."

Sassou N'Guesso is the third-longest serving president in Africa, ruling from 1979-1992 and then again since 1997 in this nation often overshadowed by its vast neighbour Congo.

Republic of Congo has had fewer than 10,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, with 134 confirmed deaths.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails