Opposition shuns political forum in Republic of Congo

democratic republic of congo mapThe main opposition coalition in the Republic of Congo has decided to boycott talks on national institutions convened by President Denis Sassou Nguesso, a party leader said Monday.

“The Republican Front for the Respect of Constitutional Order and Democratic Change (FROCAD) … will not take part in this dialogue,” Pascal Tsaty Mabiala announced as the forum was set to start in the southern town of Sibiti.

Sassou Nguesso, an ex-soldier who has ruled the one-time French colony in central Africa on and off for more than 30 years, called a “national dialogue” with the stated aim of discussing the future of the country’s institutions.

The opposition considers that the regime has an agenda to enable Sassou Nguesso, 72, to stay in power despite constitutional changes made in 2002 to limit presidential mandates to two terms and to stop anyone over 70 from standing for the top job in elections.

“In postponing the start of the dialogue for two days (from Saturday), we thought that the president of the republic was going to take account of our plea for the withdrawal of the issue of the future of institutions from the agenda,” Tsaty Mabiala told AFP by telephone.

Tsaty Mabiala is the first secretary of the leading opposition Pan-African Union for Social Democracy (UPADS), which has for several years refused to participate in elections.

“It’s more the regime that is being radical because it doesn’t want to listen or change anything. It doesn’t know the happy medium,” he added.

Sassou Nguesso first led the Republic of Congo under a single-party system from 1979 until the introduction of multi-party politics, which culminated in elections that he lost in 1992.

He returned to power in 1997 at the end of a bitter civil war, and was elected president in 2002, then again in 2009, provoking cries of fraud from his foes.

For months, the president sought to place himself above the fray, but at the end of April he said that if no consensus could be reached in national dialogue, it would be necessary “to ask the people” to decide in a constitutional referendum.

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