The Congo's 1992 constitution states that the Congo is a multiparty democracy, and that the president is head of state. Legislative power is apportioned between a 125-member National Assembly and a 60-member Senate. The constitution also stipulates that the president and members of the national assembly are to be elected every 5 years, while senate members are to be elected every 6 years. In 1997, however, the constitution was suspended by former President General Denis Sassou-Nguesso, who overthrew the popularly-elected government of President Pascal Lissouba. To his credit, President Sassou installed a cabinet composed of individuals from various political parties in order to build a broad consensus. In addition, he created a unicameral 75-member National Transitional Council to act as a legislature until the time that elections are held again. He has failed, however, to make good on his promise to restore democratic rule to the Congo by 2001.
The Republic of Congo gained its independence from the colonial power of France in 1960, and was led in its first years by a Catholic priest named Abbé Fulbert Youlou, who created a single-party state and aligned the nation with the socialist nations led by the Soviet Union. General Sassou-Nguesso first seized power in 1979. He transformed himself into a civilian leader, and continued the country's socialist policies. However, with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s the country made the difficult transition to market economic practices and created a new constitution that paved the way for democratic elections. Sassou-Nguesso lost the presidency in the Congo's first universal elections in 1993 to Pascal Lissouba. In 1997, as the next presidential election loomed, conflict broke out between supporters of President Lissouba and Sassou-Nguesso. A 5-month civil war erupted, and troops from neighboring Angola intervened on Sassou-Nguesso's behalf. General Sassou-Nguesso's forces won, and he declared himself president. However, the peace was short-lived, and fighting broke out once more. The war reached its zenith in 1998 during the battle to control Brazzaville, which substantially destroyed the city and resulted in the deaths of thousands and the flight of 250,000 of its inhabitants. Since that time there have been several attempts to negotiate an end to the conflict, but as of 2001 no settlement has been agreed upon and Sassou-Nguesso remains in power.
The war has had a devastating impact on the Congo's economy, due in part to the severing of the main rail line between Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire, which disrupted trade. Oil revenue is the only reason the Congo has not experienced a total collapse of its economy. In 1998, as a result of the war, the country's budget deficit increased to 30 percent. It was reduced to 10 percent in 1999.