Gabonese were at the polls, Sunday, to elect a new president to replace Omar Bongo Ondimba, who died last June after spending 41 years in power. The counting has began. The leading trio, made up of Ali Ben Bongo, Andre Mba Obame and Pierre Mamboundou, according to initial estimates, are in the lead.
Gabonese voted overwhelmingly on Sunday to elect Omar Bongo successor. The late president kicked the bucket last June in Spain. Although the level of participation is not yet known, Gabonese voters appear to have outnumbered the masses that voted in 1993, when Omar Bongo was elected for the first time by virtue of a multiparty system. Unofficial participation level is estimated at over 60%, according to Gabonese media sources.
The August 30 election has been, so far, the most open in the history of Gabon after Omar Bongo’s 41 year-rule. Out of 23 candidates nominated to stand as presidential candidates for their various parties, only 19 took part in the exercise as five of the initial candidates rallied behind former Interior Minister, Andre Mba Obame, Friday. The last minute coalition has unify a much dispersed opposition, which had, until then, favoured Ali Ben Bongo, son of the late president and candidate of the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG).
The voting process encountered some logistical problems. Voting materials had arrived late, and long after the polls were supposed to have opened, some voters were still waiting in line for polling station doors to open. The poll was also marked by the withdrawal of former Prime Minister Casimir Oye Mba, that afternoon. “I solemnly confirm the withdrawal of my candidacy (…). This sudden withdrawal (…) was not decided to favour another candidate,” said the former candidate. Rumours of electoral irregularities are rife in Gabon. However, according to some observers, the exercise was conducted under fair conditions.
Three candidates claim victory
Early count and exit polls reported by the national television RTG 1, which also organized an election night, tipped three candidates to win: Pierre Mamboundou of the Union of Gabonese People (UPG), Andre Mba Obame and Ali Bongo. The candidates also declared themselves winners, Sunday evening. “We started this peacefully, let us continue in peace,” Francine Rose Rogombé, the acting president, reminded the Gabonese people. Madame Rogombé urged the candidates to accept the final verdict.
Final results are expected late Monday or Tuesday. More than 800 000 registered to vote in a country with a population of about 1.3 million. Gabon holds only one round of elections irrespective of the outcome. While some critics have indicated that this system could leave the opposition with more than 50 per cent, others insist that the opposition could be as high as 70 per cent and could stall government projects, if the system is not reviewed. Oil is one of Gabon’s main resources.