Startling Gabonese election

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Only a month ago, the Gabonese presidential election seemed like it held a sure victory for Ali Bongo. Son of the late Omar Bongo who ruled Gabon for 41 years, endorsed by the ruling PDG (Gabonese Democratic Party, whose rich and powerful device was placed at his service) and Minister of Defense, fate had cut out an envious path for him. However, his path has been paved with obstacles as he strives to gain entry into the Gabonese seafront presidential palace.

Despite an impressive media hype and the once upon a time bare walls in the country wallpapered to the teeth with campaign posters in Ali Bongo’s favour, the results of Sunday’s election remain, only a few hours ahead of the official announcement, very uncertain. Both the PDG and government officials believe that Ali Bongo will win, by virtue of massive votes from the provinces expected to favour the PDG, although without a big margin.

The other two favorites, opposition leader Pierre Mamboundou and former interior minister and Bongo’s bosom friend, Andre Mba Obame, proclaimed victory a few hours after the election, forcing the PDG candidate to follow suit. Since the end of the polling exercise, the three men have been fighting a war of numbers, via press releases, SMS’ and interposed statements, despite the fact that the Autonomous and Permanent National Electoral Commission (Cenap) has not revealed the slightest clue about the election result. The three main candidates have based their arguments on copies of reports from all the 3000 polling stations that opened for the electoral exercise — received by all candidates after the polls were closed.

The African Union (AU) indicated that some “irregularities” and “shortcomings” were observed during the voting exercise, however, they believe it was conducted “in accordance with legal provisions”. Although the candidates have so far not condemned the voting exercise, the collection and counting of votes have received some sharp criticisms. Rumors of electoral tinkering and fears of excesses are growing by the hour. Pierre Mamboundou and Andre Mba Obame have indicated that a victory for Ali Bongo could only be explained by ballot stuffing and the eventual corruption of polling station overseers. Andre Mba Obame, nicknamed AMO by his supporters, has accused the PDG candidate for having “violated the law” and believes that “an electoral coup” is underway. In an interview yesterday with the, he asserted that “it may even occur that they ask our delegates to sign a new voter’s report at the CENAP headquarters!” Messrs. Mba Obame and Mamboundou have urged the Gabonese to show their displeasure in case there is an “electoral hold-up.” Unrest could become the order of the day should both candidates lose. If one of them is elected, however, it is very likely they get along and even share ministerial portfolios.

President by all means necessary?

Ali Bongo, on the other hand, does not intend to give in without a fight. Some say he is ready to take over power by any means necessary, even if it means using force. The massive deployment of armed forces in the capital, which according to official reports is to prevent violence, does raise some concern. If defeated, will he use the military to satisfy his political ambitions? Forced to resign as Minister of Defence by the acting President, Rose Francine Rogombé, on August 15, there is no doubt that his influence on the army lingers. What makes it difficult though, is the fact that some officers and troops openly supported Mamboundou and Mba Obame. There could be irreparable fissures in the army on the D-day, as was the case in the PDG when Bongo was nominated as their official candidate.

Clearly, Ali Bongo does not enjoy unanimous support in Gabon. If he becomes, in the coming hours, president of the country he would have a very difficult task cooling down the tempers of his opponents or obtain the consent of the Gabonese people. The man is not known to be a persuasive orator and his image as a devout hedonist does not help him. But above all, his inability to silence dissent within his own party and to assert his authority over members show his lack of federative abilities. Andre Mba Obame, former bosom friend of Ali Bongo and Omar Bongo’s Minister in several governments, has proved himself as full of assurance and energetic. Member of the majority Fang ethnic group, just like the country’s first president, Leon Mba, he could symbolise change after a long batéké leadership. However, his promises of change have left skeptics, who remember how skillfully he used the system for twenty long years, doubtful. As for Pierre Mamboundou, his long career built on opposing Omar Bongo appears to have stricken a chord with the Gabonese people who seemingly cannot wait long enough for a break from the Bongo rule. But his lack of experience in the exercise of power is worrisome. Some of his fiercest opponents have not hesitated to hurl accusations at him, including claims that he benefited from the late president’s largesse. The former president Omar Bongo is often referred to as the “village chief”, as he never forgot to shower gifts on his enemies. Nevertheless, all candidates have promised that they would make sure wealth is distributed fairly to benefit the entire population. Therein lies the biggest challenge facing the new President of the Republic of Gabon.

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