Vote counting under way in Congo following presidential election

President Denis Sassou Nguesso seeking to extend his 36-year reign, but critics allege vote will not be free and fair.

Video Transcript

MALCOLM WEBB: Denny Sassou Nguesso has ruled the Republic of Congo for most of the last 40 years. He wants to stay. He voted here in the capital Brazzaville.

DANNIS SASSOU NGUESSO: [SPEAKING FRENCH]

INTERPRETER: Our democracy, which is in its first stages, we can say our democracy is in good health.

MALCOLM WEBB: His most prominent opponent, Guy-Bris Parfait Kolelas, has COVID. He sent a message to his supporters from hospital.

GUY-BRIS PARFAIT KOLELAS: [SPEAKING FRENCH]

INTERPRETER: I'm battling death, but I'm asking you to stand up and vote.

MALCOLM WEBB: There was a low turnout in many polling stations in Brazzaville. In parts of the city where the opposition are popular, there were more voters and complaints of irregularities. Voters here said a ruling party official had taken all the materials from a polling station to his property, where they said he was paying people $20 to vote for the ruling party. This man says, "You're giving money to people to vote for you. It's not an election."

Dozens of armed police came, but they said they didn't have a warrant to enter the property, and would wait to gather more evidence. The president of the electoral commission out visiting polling stations said everyone should have been able to vote.

HENRI BOUKA: [SPEAKING FRENCH]

INTERPRETER: We can't imagine a person with a card whose name is not on the electoral list. But we gave instruction that all those persons must vote.

MALCOLM WEBB: Charlin Kinouani campaigns for democracy with a group of activists. He says people are voting in fear.

CHARLIN KINOUANI: [SPEAKING FRENCH]

INTERPRETER: The situation is threatening and doesn't guarantee a peaceful election. I'm sure the result will be contested, because the election is not credible.

MALCOLM WEBB: The activists say there are many problems with the electoral register. Charlin says his father is on it, even though he died years ago. He says he also found the names of a couple of his neighbors on these lists, even though they're long since dead. Young people, on the other hand, many of them don't even try to register. Others sell their votes. And he says that's because they don't believe that there's any chance an election can bring any change.

Money played a big part in the campaigns, too. Here, cash is thrown to people as payment for attending a rally of the ruling party. Congo's billions of dollars of oil wealth haven't helped most of its people. All businesses had to close for polling day. People were only allowed to move on foot, and the internet has been switched off. Rights groups say that means the counting and tallying will happen in the dark. The electoral commission says the result will be announced in about four days. Malcolm Webb, Al Jazeera, Brazzaville, Republic of Congo.