Congo ruling party expected to win legislative elections

President Denis Sassou Nguesso’s ruling party is expected to be the big winner of legislative elections on Sunday in the African republic of Congo, where opposition complaints have had little impact.

Sassou Nguesso, a former Marxist army officer, has been back in controversy this week after French prosecutors started investigating allegations that he used embezzled state funds to buy luxury Paris apartments.

But his Congolese Labour Party (PCT) controls 115 seats in the current 137-seat Parliament and is safely expected to get a similar number after the two rounds of the election on Sunday and July 22.

The opposition has called the vote an ”electoral masquerade” and some have called for a boycott. But one Western diplomat in Brazzaville said the protest leaders had little real following in the country of about four million people.

Most main opposition groups are taking part, including the Pan-African Union for Social Democracy of ex-president Pascal Lissouba, who was overthrown by Sassou Nguesso in 1997, and the Union for Democracy and the Republic, led by former prime minister Andre Milongo.

A civil war erupted just before a scheduled presidential election in July 1997. Lissouba’s government forces surrounded Sassou’s compound in Brazzaville, sparking a four-month conflict that left tens of thousands dead.

Angolan troops entered Congo on the side of Sassou in October that year and the Lissouba government fell. Soon after, Sassou Nguesso declared himself president. He easily won a presidential election in 2002.

Bernard Kolelas, an opponent of Sassou Nguesso, returned from exile in 2005 and joined the presidential camp under an accord signed in April.

Another former rebel, Frederic Bitsangou, known as ”Ntumi”, has also signed a peace deal and set up a formal political party this year. But he has demanded these elections be postponed and threatened to boycott them.

Sassou Nguesso’s main problem is the growing divisions inside his party, which is split between an old guard and reformers. Some of the smaller parties taking part could also eat into the huge PCT majority.

The president, who faces allegations in France that millions of dollars have been illegally spent on apartments and homes for himself and his family, is preparing for a new presidential election in 2009. — Sapa-AFP

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