Voters in the Republic of the Congo will head to the polls on Sunday to elect a president in a vote boycotted by the country’s leading opposition party.
President Denis Sassou Nguesso, who has ruled the oil-producing country of five million people for 36 years, is seeking a new five-year mandate.
The 77-year-old incumbent faces six opposition challengers but is widely expected to win.
Hoping to unseat Nguesso is Guy Brice Parfait Kolelas, leader of the Union of Humanists Democrats. A 61-year-old economist by training and former minister, Kolelas finished a distant second with 15 percent of the vote in the 2016 election.
Mathias Dzon, a former finance minister under Nguesso, is also contesting the election on the Patriotic Union for National Renewal ticket. The 73-year-old registered to take part in the 2009 poll but pulled out days before the election day alleging issues with the voter register. Dzon boycotted the 2016 vote, claiming it would not be free and fair.
Albert Oniangue, an evangelical pastor, is also seeking the country’s top seat. The former army colonel is a newcomer to the political scene, contesting the presidency for the first time and has branded himself as the candidate for change.
Nguesso first served as president from 1979 until 1992, when he finished third in the Congo’s first multiparty vote. But he retook power in 1997, following a brief civil war in which his rebel forces removed then-President Pascal Lissouba, and has ruled ever since.
He was elected in 2002 and then again in 2009, for what was to be his second and final seven-year term. But in 2015, Nguesso pushed constitutional reforms that removed the 70-year age limit that would have barred him from contesting the polls the following year.
In late January, the Pan-African Union for Social Democracy (UPADS), the country’s main opposition party, said it had decided not to field a candidate in Sunday’s vote, arguing conditions were not conducive for polls and that an election would only lead to more divisions in the country.
More than 2.5 million people have registered to take part in the election. Polls will open at 7am (06:00 GMT) and close at 5pm (16:00 GMT).