Congo's legislative elections marred by low voter enthusiasm

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The Congolese voted Sunday for the legislative and local elections, which should allow the party in power to keep its hold on both houses of parliament.

Scheduled to start at 07:00 (06:00 GMT), the vote started at least an hour late in the offices visited by AFP journalists.

At the Nkeoua Joseph school, in the first constituency of Bacongo (second district of the capital), where seven candidates are in the running, the first voter slipped her ballot into the box at 8:11 am local time. A center in Kinkala, in the Pool region (south of the country), neighboring Brazzaville, registered its first voter at 9:14 am.

There were no crowds in front of the polling stations at the start of voting.

"I came to do my duty because I love my country. But I especially need change. I am 61 years old, and I have never had a job," said Franine Nkounkou, a resident of Bacongo.

President Denis Sassou Nguesso, 79 years old, 38 of which have been at the head of the country, was due to vote before noon in a center in the fifth district of Brazzaville.

His political party, the Congolese Labor Party (PCT), which has 101 elected officials (out of a total of 151) in the outgoing assembly, has fielded 127 candidates and expects to maintain its hold.

The local councillors who will emerge from these elections are the electors who, in turn, will elect the 72 senators in the first chamber of parliament.

Facing the PCT, the Pan-African Union for Social Democracy (UPADS, the leading opposition party) is fielding 45 candidates for the legislative elections, compared to 32 for the Union of Humanist Democrats (UDH-Yuki) of the late opponent Guy-Brice Parfait Kolélas.

The Federation and the Collective of the Congolese Opposition, led respectively by Clément Miérassa and former Finance Minister Mathias Dzon, have chosen to boycott the vote.

"All these elections are organized in total disrespect of the law. Instead, we want an inclusive dialogue to discuss the real problems of Congo and the release of political opponents," Miérassa recently told AFP.

Voting, scheduled to end at 6:00 p.m. (17:00 GMT), is taking place in more than 6,500 polling stations.

At least 3,000 observers sent by national NGOs, the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) are overseeing the operation.

A second round of legislative elections is expected to take place, but the date has not yet been announced.

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