(Reuters) - Congo Republic's President Denis Sassou Nguesso said on Tuesday that he would call an election sometime in the first quarter of next year, several months ahead of schedule.
Sassou Nguesso, who has ruled Congo for 31 of the last 36 years, is widely expected to seek a third consecutive mandate in 2016 after winning an October referendum on changes to the constitution that legalise his candidacy.
He did not mention his intentions in the Tuesday speech before parliament.
"The council of ministers will call on the electoral body earlier than expected so that the presidential election can take place during the first quarter of 2016," President Sassou Nguesso told lawmakers.
The election was previously set to take place in July.
Congo Republic's opposition called street protests last year ahead of the referendum in which at least four people were shot dead by security forces, prompting criticism from rights groups.
But since Sassou Nguesso's victory, they have struggled to create a united front.
Christoph Wille, senior analyst for Africa at consultancy Control Risks, said the election's timing was aimed at giving a strategic advantage to the ruling Congolese Labour Party (PCT).
"They hope to rush through the process and probably announce the exact date very last minute so the opposition does not have time to gain momentum," he said.
Several other African presidents such as Burkina Faso's Blaise Compaore and Rwanda's Paul Kagame have also sought to prolong their grip on power by reforming their own laws.
(Reporting by Philon Severin Bondenga; Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Joe Bavier)