22, March 2021
Republic of Congo opposition candidate Guy-Brice Parfait Kolelas died of COVID-19 as he was being transferred to France for treatment on Monday.
Kolelas was seen as the main rival to veteran leader Denis Sassou Nguesso, who was expected to win Sunday’s vote.
The election was boycotted by the main opposition and under an internet blackout, with critics voicing concerns over the transparency of the polls seen as tilted towards Sassou Nguesso.
Kolelas “died in the medical aircraft which came to get him from Brazzaville on Sunday afternoon,” his campaign director Christian Cyr Rodrigue Mayanda told AFP.
The sixty-year-old tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday afternoon, and was unable to host his last campaign meeting in Brazzaville.
On Saturday, he posted a video from his sickbed, declaring he was “battling against death.”
“Rise up as one person… I’m fighting on my deathbed, you too fight for your change,” he urged his supporters, saying the election was “about the future of your children.”
Sassou Nguesso, 77, a former paratrooper, first rose to power in 1979 and has since accumulated 36 years in office, making him one of the world’s longest-serving leaders.
Speaking after he cast his ballot, Sassou Nguesso said that the “atmosphere of peace” during the election campaign — marked by police crackdowns on the opposition — was “a good sign for our democracy.”
After first coming to power in 1979, Sassou Nguesso was forced to introduce multi-party elections in 1991 and was defeated at the ballot box a year later.
But he returned to power in 1997 following a prolonged civil war.
He has won every election since, which the opposition has mostly slammed as fraudulent.
A constitutional amendment in 2015, which ended a ban on presidential candidates aged over 70 and scrapped a two-term limit, allowed him to run again in 2016.