, BRAZZAVILLE, May 12 – Congo-Brazzaville will hold its second presidential election since the end of its civil war on July 12, with veteran incumbent Denis Sassou Nguesso expected to run for another seven-year term.
The date was released on Monday in a presidential decree.
"The electoral body is called for Sunday, July 12, 2009 for the first round of the election for president of the republic throughout the entire country," said the decree, signed on May 8 by Sassou Nguesso.
The government had previously said that the election would take place in the first half of July but had not set a date.
More than a dozen presidential hopefuls have already announced their candidacy. While Sasso Nguesso has yet to declare his intention to run again, his entourage have indicated that he will be a candidate.
Sasso Nguesso first came to power in the former French colony in 1979 and has been president for all but five years of the last three decades.
He was ousted in elections in 1992 but seized power again in 1997 at the end of a civil war before winning a new seven-year term at elections in 2002.
Congo is one of sub-Saharan Africa’s main oil producers, though the vast majority of its 3.8 million people live in poverty.
Civil war and militia conflicts have plagued the central-west African country, which is currently going through a sustained period of relative calm.
However, the parliamentary election of 2007 and local polls in 2008 were marked by fraud and irregularities, condemned by African Union observers.
July’s poll will be organised by the National Elections Organisation Committee (CONEL), which has faced accusations of bias from the opposition.
Ange Edouard Poungui, candidate for the main opposition party, the PanAfrican Union for Social Democracy (UPADS), has called on supporters to "demand a transparent and equitable election" and said an independent electoral commission "must guarantee chances for one and all."
The United Front of Opposition Parties (FUPO) grouped around 20 opposition parties before the Republican Dialogue forum held in April which was supposed to prepare the presidential election.
The FUPO, which is also calling for a revision of the electoral lists, eventually boycotted the forum.
FUPO spokesman Pascal Tsaty Mabiala said after the forum that "conditions such as transparency, the revision of lists, and respect for the opposition, are not created for this election, it will be neither free, nor transparent and we will contest that."
Sassou Nguesso, a close ally of France, is the subject of a formal corruption probe by a French judge. Along with Omar Bongo Ondimba of Gabon and Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, Congo’s president has been named in a case taken in France by Transparency International.
The anti-graft group accuses the trio of acquiring properties in Paris with embezzled public money.
But state prosecutors plan to appeal to try to block the probe, arguing that the independent anti-graft watchdog has no right to lodge a complaint because it is not a direct victim of any wrongdoing, legal sources in Paris said.
All three presidents deny wrongdoing.