Republic of Congo presidential candidate dies aged 61

Guy Brice Parfait Kolelas, the main opposition challenger, was in hospital with Covid-19

Guy Brice Parfait Kolelas died while he was being evacuated for medical treatment, a spokesman said. Photograph: Marco Longari/AFP via Getty

Guy Brice Parfait Kolelas died while he was being evacuated for medical treatment, a spokesman said. Photograph: Marco Longari/AFP via Getty

 

The main opposition candidate in Sunday’s presidential election in Congo Republic, Guy Brice Parfait Kolelas, has died aged 61 while being evacuated to France for medical treatment, aides said on Monday.

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

Mr Kolelas had been seen as President Denis Sassou Nguesso’s strongest challenger, although diplomats and analysts said there was little doubt that the incumbent would win and extend his 36-year rule.

Congo Republic’s electoral commission said on Monday that provisional result showed Mr Sassou was leading in several districts, including some where he had 100 per cent of the vote.

Mr Kolelas’s heart stopped when his aeroplane landed in Paris and the ambulance team was unable to save him, said his adviser, Didier Loco. His spokesman, Justin Nzoloufoua, declined to give the cause of death.

Grieving supporters in the capital, Brazzaville, filled the Union of Democratic Humanists (UDH-YUKI) party headquarters, where a huge portrait of Mr Kolelas hung on the wall and the national flag flew at half-mast.

“Everyone was counting on him. We are very disappointed,” said Edgar Masomba, a 50-year-old supporter.

“Why, why, why?” several women cried.

Mr Kolelas, the 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”.

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

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

Mr Sassou (77), changed the constitution in 2015 to extend the term limit. – Reuters