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Gabon – Election Tension

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Opposition leader declares his victory before the official announcement, leading to concerns there will be a political standoff.

As the results of the recent election are to be announced in the coming days, opposition leader Jean Ping has claimed an ‘unofficial’ victory, stating “I am waiting for the President to call and congratulate me.” However the government dismissed the claims as “illegal.”

The law in Gabon states that no candidate can declare the result before the official announcement, but Ping stated that he was seeking to stop President Ali Bongo from cheating. One law student from Libreville said, “We don’t know if the opposition will accept the results if they don’t go in favour of Jean Ping and we also don’t think the presidential camp or the militants of Ali Bongo will accept the results if they don’t go in favour of the president,” reported RFI.

The head of the Pan-African Democracy Observatory, an NGO based in Togo, downplayed the significance of Ping’s declaration. “We should not be surprised if one or the other declare victory. It’s all part of the game,” Djovi Gally said.

Until recently, Bongo was the favourite but protracted talks led all the key challengers to pull out and support Ping. Ping has met with French and US ambassadors stating that it is only him that can bring about meaningful change in Gabon.

However he has not escaped allegations of corruption; Ping was a former ally of Ali Bongo’s father Omar Bongo, who ruled the country for 42 years until his death in 2009. Omar Bongo got Ping a job as African Union Commission (AUC) Chairman.

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President Ali Bongo with French counterpart Francois Hollande – CC 2016.

Ping also has close familial ties with the Bongo dynasty, he was formerly married to Omar Bongo’s eldest daughter, Pascaline Bongo, with whom he had two children, reported RFI. However in 2014 Ping told French newspaper Le Monde that Gabon had turned into a dictatorship at the hands of a single family.

According to African Arguments, Gabon’s political system can be identified as what political scientists call “competitive authoritarianism”; formal democratic institutions exist but the rules are tailored to such an extent that is almost impossible for the opposition to win elections.

There are no presidential term limits and the first-past-the-post system means that the victor would not need an absolute majority. In the 2009 election Ali Bongo obtained just 42% of the vote. Similarly the Ministry of the Interior and the Electoral Commission, responsible for supervising the elections, are not fully independent.

The situation is concerning; according to the US-based NGO National Endowment for Democracy, “Côte d’Ivoire was plunged into post-electoral crisis in 2010, when Alassane Outtara and Laurent Gbagbo both declared themselves winner.” In the clashes that followed Bongo’s 2009 victory, several people were killed, buildings were looted, reported Al-Jazeera.

Aside from the political problems, whoever is declared the victory will have to deal with serious economic problems. According to the World Bank, Gabon has a population of 1.7m and has one of the highest per capita incomes due to oil wealth. However the revenues largely end up in the pockets of the political elites, and as oil prices flounder, the country, and particularly the poorest, will be put under increasing economic strain, reported Deutschewelle.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

GABON: Bongo To Stand
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol. 53, Issue. 7, Pp. 21068B–21068C

GABON: Election Date
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.53, Issue. 6, Pp. 21032A–21032B

GABON: Candidate Harassment?
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.53, Issue.5, Pp. 20997B–20997C

Subscribe to the Africa Research Bulletin today.

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