, BRAZZAVILLE, July 13 – Congo was counting votes after an election expected to extend veteran President Denis Sassou Nguesso’s long rule amid opposition calls for a re-run on the ground of a less than 10 percent turnout.
A statement from half of the 12 candidates up against Sassou Nguesso — who has ruled the oil-rich but impoverished central African nation on and off since 1979 — said more than 90 percent of the electorate had shunned Sunday’s ballot.
"The Congolese people have clearly expressed themselves with this record abstention of more than 90 percent.
"By this strong rate of abstention, the Congolese who love justice and peace have expressed their rejection of this totalitarian, arrogant and corrupt regime," it said, alleging massive rigging and vote-buying.
The government late Sunday rejected the demand.
"The opposition declarations of massive fraud are incorrect and do not hold," said Comminications Minister and government spokesman Alain Akouala Atipault.
"We cannot speak of fraud when we had 170 international observers on the ground," he added.
No official figure was immediately available but the electoral commission gave a vastly different version of events, telling AFP after the polls closed that turnout had been "massive" in parts of the country.
Opponents of the president however called on "national and international opinion to acknowledge the illegitimacy of Denis Sassou Nguesso," and demanded "a new presidential ballot organised with the agreement of all political forces in the country."
The text was signed by opposition candidates Mathias Dzon, Guy Romain Kinfoussia and Clement Mierassa as well as independent candidates Bonaventure Mizidy Bavoueza, Jean Francois Tchibinda Kouangou and Marion Matzimba Ehouango.
Sixty-six year old Sassou Nguesso is seeking a new seven-year term, supported by a wide grouping of parties in the Presidential Majority Assembly against 12 other candidates.
He has ruled Congo for almost 25 years, having held power from 1979 to 1992 and returned to the presidency in 1997 after a civil war.
Sassou Nguesso was re-elected in 2002 in a vote that international observers said fell short of democratic standards. African Union observers also cited fraud and irregularities in parliamentary and local elections in 2007 and 2008.
Despite an abundance of oil and timber, its principal exports, 70 percent of Congo’s inhabitants still live below the poverty line.
Provisional election results were expected in three to four days, the electoral commission said. If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote, a second round will be held.
Some 2.2 million Congolese were officially eligible to vote out of a total population of 3.6 million.