The Republic of Congo’s main opposition candidate Guy-Brice Parfait Kolelas died as he was being transferred to France for treatment for Covid-19, his campaign director told AFP Monday, a day after presidential elections were held.
Kolelas “died in the medical aircraft which came to get him from Brazzaville on Sunday afternoon”, said Christian Cyr Rodrigue Mayanda.
Kolelas was being evacuated to France for treatment when he passed away. He first tested positive for Covid-19 on Friday and fell seriously ill. He spent election day in hospital.
In a video that circulated on social media, 61-year-old Kolelas, who was diabetic, could be seen briefly removing an oxygen mask to tell his supporters that he is “fighting 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”.
Kolelas was one of six candidates running against Denis Sassou Nguesso, 77, and was seen as the main opposition candidate. He was the runner-up in 2016’s presidential election and has been widely seen as the main political threat to Sassou Nguesso, who has lead the central African country for a total of 36 years since 1979.
Provisional election results are not expected for days but Sassou Nguesso was widely expected to win re-election.
Concerns over internet blackout
Critics including Congo’s influential Catholic Church had expressed “serious reservations” about the vote’s transparency amid an internet shutdown on election day.
About 50 organizations, including Internet Without Borders, last week appealed to the president to “keep the internet open, accessible and safe during the whole of the 2021 presidential election period”.
The largest opposition group, the Pan-African Union for Social Democracy or UPADS, boycotted the poll in which some 2.5 million people are eligible to vote.
The former French colony has abundant oil reserves and most of its budget comes from petroleum revenue. But its economy is in a slump, hurt by a collapse in world crude oil prices, long-standing debt and the pandemic, as well as its reputation for corruption.
Sassou Nguesso campaigned on agricultural development and portrayed himself as a defender of Congo’s youth – the average age of the population of 5 million is just 19, according to UN figures.