Republic of Congo presidential candidate dies of Covid as election results roll in

Guy Brice Parfait Kolelas was seen as the strongest challenger to the current president

Congo Republic's main opposition leader dies of Covid-19 during election

Congo Republic's main opposition leader dies of Covid-19 during election
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The main opposition candidate in the Republic of the Congo's presidential election, Guy Brice Parfait Kolelas, 61, has died while being taken for medical treatment, aides said on Monday.

Early results from Sunday's vote showed the incumbent, Denis Sassou Nguesso, in the lead.

Mr Kolelas's election campaign said on Sunday that the former minister was in hospital with Covid-19, which prevented him from casting his vote.

He was regarded as Mr Sassou Nguesso's strongest challenger, although diplomats and analysts said there was little doubt the incumbent would win and extend his 36-year rule.

Full results are not expected until later this week, but tallies from about 40 per cent of the 86 districts showed Mr Sassou Nguesso ahead, including some where he had won 100 per cent of the vote, the electoral commission said.

"They are all showing the same trend," the commission's president, Henri Bouka, said in the capital Brazzaville.

Mr Kolelas's heart stopped when his plane landed in Paris and the ambulance team was unable to revive him, said his adviser, Didier Loco.

His spokesman, Justin Nzoloufoua, declined to give the cause of death.

The US issued a statement on Monday, in which State Department spokesperson Mr Ned Price said the US was "saddened by the passing of Guy Brice Parfait Kolelas and extend our condolences to all Congolese mourning his recent death."

Grieving supporters in the capital Brazzaville filled the Union of Democratic Humanists party headquarters, where a large portrait of Mr Kolelas hung on the wall and the national flag flew at half-staff.

"Everyone was counting on him. We are very disappointed," said Edgar Masomba, 50, a supporter.

"Why, why, why?" several women cried.

Mr Kolelas, son of former prime minister Bernard Kolelas, worked in the government for many years and came second in the 2016 presidential election.

He released a video from his hospital bed late on Saturday.

Breathing heavily and holding an oxygen mask next to his face, Mr Kolelas said he was "battling against death" but urged Congolese to "go vote for change".

Congo Republic's opposition presidential candidate Guy Brice Parfait Kolelas speaks to supporters while receiving oxygen, in Brazzaville, Congo Republic in this still image taken from Reuters TV video said to be filmed March 19, 2021. Before his death, his election campaign said he was hospitalised due to COVID-19. Parfait Kolelas/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
Republic of Congo's opposition presidential candidate Guy Brice Parfait Kolelas speaks to supporters from hospital in Brazzaville, the Republic of the Congo. Reuters

Some supporters said they doubted he had died of Covid-19, but party leaders tried to quash conspiracy theories.

"Whether it was Covid or something else is not important to us. What matters is the future of the party," said its secretary general, Gaston Malanda.

"Unfortunately, the catastrophe came at the moment when we were calculating results. We have no information today to say whether he won or not."

The legal ramifications of a candidate dying after polls close but before the results are announced are not clear, said Maja Bovcon, senior Africa analyst at risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.

"Given that all of the key institutions of state are under Sassou Nguesso's control, we do not expect the matter to be referred to the constitutional court," Ms Bovcon said.

Mr Sassou Nguesso, 77, changed the constitution in 2015 to extend the presidential term limit.

An internet cut across the country on election day continued on Monday, witnesses said.

"As electoral institutions tabulate the results, the United States calls on authorities to ensure that this process is conducted in a transparent and fair manner," Mr Price also said. "We encourage all parties to remain committed to the democratic process, Congo’s constitution, and the rule of law."