The prominent opposition presidential candidate in the Congo Brazzaville, Guy Brice Parfait Colilas, who was suffering from a chronic infection with the Coronavirus, died hours after the polls closed.
His campaign manager said Colillas died on a plane that was taking him to France for treatment.
Hours earlier, the 61-year-old politician appeared in a video shared on social media, removing his oxygen mask and telling his supporters he was “fighting death,” calling on voters to vote in Sunday’s election.
The country’s election law does not eliminate election results in the event of the death of a candidate.
Coulillas, who has diabetes, was among six candidates running against President Denis Sassou Nguesso, 77, who has been in power since 1979, with the exception of a five-year period after losing the 1992 election.
Congo-Brazzaville has officially registered more than 9,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country, in addition to 130 deaths.
The country imposed a night curfew in the main cities of Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire and closed its borders due to the epidemic.
However, election rallies were allowed, with not many signs of people respecting social distancing or wearing masks.
The Associated Press reported that Kulillas missed his latest campaign on Friday after saying the previous day that he feared contracting malaria.
He was transferred to a private hospital in the capital, Brazzaville, to be confirmed later that he had COVID-19.
Speaking in French, Colillas said from his hospital bed: “Dear comrades, I am in trouble. I am fighting death. Nevertheless, I ask you to stand up and vote for change. I would not have fought for nothing.”
He said the elections “are about the future of your children.”
Sassou Nguesso defeated Coulillas in the last elections in 2016, garnering 60 percent of the vote compared to his opponent’s 15 percent.
The Netblocks group, which monitors internet connectivity around the world, said the internet was blocked before voting began on Sunday.
The largest opposition party, the African Union for Social Democracy, boycotted the elections, saying it feared the elections would divide the nation.
The Congress of the Catholic Church in Congo-Brazzaville said it had “serious reservations” about the transparency of the elections.
Death is forbidden Congo From Activist does not Get tired
Emery Macomino analysis, BBC News
Colilas could have led an easy life, a cabinet minister with the perks that came from being a high-ranking official, but he gave up on it all to challenge President Sassou Nguesso.
His death deprived the opposition in Congo-Brazzaville of a tireless advocate for democracy, and weakened the opposition’s chances of posing a serious challenge to the presidential seat.
What is certain is that there will be no speculation about how Kuleilas was feeling about the state of the country in his final moments – he chose to record a personal message to Congolese urging them to continue the struggle for democracy.
He was ranked second in the 2016 presidential election, but even in a poll many see his results as inevitable, Colilas’ performance in the election, even after his death, will remain closely watched.