After 36 years in power, Rep of Congo's president runs again

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People walk past an election poster featuring opposition presidential candidate Guy Brice Parfait Kolelas in central Brazzaville, Congo, Sunday March 7, 2021. Elections on Sunday March 21 will see President Denis Sassou N'Guesso poised to extend his tenure as one of Africa's longest serving leaders, 36 years, amid opposition complaints of interference with their campaigns. (AP Photo/Lebon Chansard Ziavoula)

BRAZZAVILLE – After 36 years in power, Republic of Congo's President Denis Sassou N’Guesso appears poised to extend his tenure as one of Africa's longest-serving leaders in the elections to be held Sunday amid opposition complaints of interference with their campaigns.

The front-runner among the six remaining challengers is Guy Brice Parfait Kolelas, who finished second during the last election in 2016 but lacks significant support outside the country's two largest cities.

Kolelas already has complained about being blocked from boarding a plane to make a campaign stop in the north.

“Congo has become a police state," Kolelas said on the campaign trail. "I want to give back some fundamental freedoms to the Congolese people. I want to give hope to the Congolese people.”

Some civil society groups also have voiced concerns in the lead-up to the vote in this Central African country often overshadowed by its vast neighbor, Congo, which has a similar name.

“We have serious reservations that a peaceful, participatory, transparent, free and credible presidential election can be organized in the current conditions,” the Catholic bishops’ conference said in a statement ahead of the election.

The country's military was allowed to vote early on Wednesday, prompting a few opposition figures to accuse Sassou N'Guesso's party of stuffing ballot boxes.

“The vote of the military is an aberration,” said Anguios Nganguia Engambe, a magistrate candidate. “I know that the same soldiers who are currently voting in uniform will do so on (Sunday) in civilian clothes, since their military status is not mentioned on the electoral list."