Gabon’s contested elections

Without surprise, the presidential elections’ results in Gabon, announced on 31st August and making Ali Bongo the winner, are controversial and denounced by the opposition. Yet, since the proclamation of the outgoing President’s victory, violent demonstrations have broken out across the country.

Despite Ban Ki-moon’s congratulations during the holding of the presidential election in Gabon on Saturday 27 August[1], the outcome of this election has since then been contested. Jean Ping, the opposition leader, has requested a recount, arguing that the result “was a joke”[2]. “Everybody inside and outside the country knows that I’m the winner. There is no doubt about that. All the European observers know that”[3], he said. The official results showed that Ali Bongo won with 49,80% of the votes, Jean Ping receiving 48,23% – the difference being of 5594 votes only. Only 628 000 people took part in the ballot, of a population of 1,8 million. Thus, the nearly 50-year Bongo dynasty seems to have to last longer.

Following the announcement of the results, mass demonstrations have broken out in the country. From Wednesday 31, protestors set fire to the parliament building and clashed with security forces. In retaliation, Ping’s headquarters have been attacked, the opposition leader stated. Mass arrests and even deaths have to be noted: in Libreville, the capital, between 600 and 800 people were arrested whereas 200-300 have suffered the same fate in the rest of the country[4]. Six police officers have been killed during the post-vote riots and, for the moment, five civilian casualties have to be deplored.

The risk of electoral fraud is well known and often feared in some African countries. A problem is that of the results’ release: indeed, these are not known progressively. Instead, they are collected at one location and then announced by the Permanent National Electoral Commission (CENAP), which increases the risk of the manipulation of figures.

Without knowing who exactly deserves the title of President of Gabon, observers nevertheless agree on the advantages Ali Bongo had on his concurrent. For example, and that is a major point in what we call “semi-democratic regimes”, the incumbent President benefited from a greater access to the media, greater financial means, as well as an ability to make his opponents less visible on the political stage.

Various stakeholders have called for transparency and wish that the country got out of the crisis as fast as possible and peacefully. France is following closely the recent events. Yet, numerous are its nationals in Gabon – around 12 000. But it is not the only reason: both States have nurtured close ties for decades, even if the doubts of the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean-Marc Ayrault, regarding “the honesty of the results published[5]”, show a certain change in the bilateral relation. France’s interests in the country revolve mainly around oil investment: Total Gabon turnover for the 2nd semester 2016 amounts to 194 million dollars, oil being today 51% of the Gabonese GDP and 85% of the exportations.

Five days after the proclamation of Ali Bongo’s victory, the struggle between Jean Ping and him is still going on. Ping has called Europe, France and the United States to support him in his will of recounting the votes. In Libreville and Port-Gentil, despite the decrease of violence, tension is still perceptible[6]. There are many uncertainties concerning the turn of events and the solution of the crisis; but for sure will Ali Bongo continue to claim the legitimacy of power while Western chancelleries will remain indecisive regarding the position to adopt in the Gabonese crisis.

[1] UN News service, Gabon: UN Chief Congratulates Peaceful Presidential Poll, 29/08/2016

[2] AllAfrica, Gabon Election 2016 – Jean Ping Demands a Recount, 01/09/2016

[3] Ibid.

[4] AllAfrica, Gabon: Several Killed, Mass Arrests in Gabon Post-Vote Violence, 01/09/2016

[5] TV5 Monde, France-Gabon : pétrole, intérêts et vigilance, 01/09/2016

[6] RFI, A la Une : le bras de fer se poursuit au Gabon, 05/09/2016

Déborah Guidez

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