Libreville was tensely awaiting election results on Monday in what is Gabon’s most hotly contested election in decades. Following the death of Africa’s longest-serving ruler, Omar Bongo, in June, 18 candidates are vying to succeed him in the central African state.
Voters queued on Sunday in polling stations around the country in an election marked by high turnout, and three candidates have claimed victory though official results have not yet been released.
The ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG), which boasts a huge campaign war chest, says its candidate, the late leader’s son, Ali Ben, has won the election, fuelling accusations of a dynastic transfer of power in the oil-producing state and French ally.
"Information received from different constituencies in Gabon and abroad put me largely as a winner," Bongo told journalists Monday. "I'm waiting for the competent authorities to announce the results officially."
But two other candidates, opposition leader Pierre Mamboundou, and former interior minister Andre Mba Obame, also say they are winners.
A late swell of opposition
Observers and candidates warned against post-election unrest. Tension was palpable in several working class areas of Libreville, and a late swell of opposition challenged frontrunner Bongo.
“There is a mounting groundswell of opposition against frontrunner Ali Ben, which he will have to contend with if he does eventually come to power,” said Kissy Agyeman-Togobo, an analyst at the London-based HIS Global Insight.
There were accusations that the Bongo camp was using its influence in a last-minute attempt to counter opposition.
One of Bongo’s main opponents, Casimir Oye Mba, dramatically pulled out on the day of the election, without giving any voting instructions.
Oye Mba told journalists, however, that he had pulled out so as not to appear to support the result of what he called “a calamitous electoral process which doesn’t look like being clean and credible”.
Meanwhile, authorities shut down TV+, a private television owned by one of Bongo’s strongest opponents, Mba Obame, in a move the television’s chief executive, Franck Nguema, described as “intimidation” by Bongo supporters.
In an interview with FRANCE 24, Paul-Simon Handy of the Institute for Security Studies, based in South Africa, said Bongo supporters were “panicking”.
“The Bongo camp seemed confident,” said Handy, “but at the end of the campaigning, we saw it panic, especially with the closure of the Mba Obame’s channel.”
On Friday, five candidates dropped out of the race and called for their supporters to vote for Bongo’s rival Obame.
The head of the international observer mission, Daniel-Franck Idiata, said the election process looked generally acceptable despite long delays in some polling stations.
Rose Francine Rogombe, Gabon’s interim president, urged calm and exhorted candidates to accept the result of elections.
“Democracy is about accepting success and defeat,” said Rogombe.
Authorities have closed the country’s sea and land borders until Thursday at midnight.