| 22 May 2024, Wednesday |

Gabon election: President Ali Bongo aims for third term

Polls have started in Gabon, the oil-rich central African country where President Ali Bongo, who took over when his father Omar died in 2009, is seeking a third term.

He is up against 13 other persons.

“Gabon is not the property of the Bongos,” argues opposition candidate Albert Ondo Ossa, who aims to lead the Alternance 2023 alliance to victory despite only being selected last week.

There are severe worries about the process, as there have been in past general elections.

Both of Mr Bongo’s prior wins were disputed as fraudulent by opponents, and this time around controversial changes have been made to the ballot papers just weeks before election day.

For the first time, voters are being asked to mark a single ballot with their choice of a president and MP who must belong to the same party.

Experts say this disadvantages independent candidates – notably Mr Ondo Ossa, who heads the opposition Alternance 2023 alliance but lacks a party of his own.

Foreign media have been banned from setting foot in the country to cover Saturday’s vote, says the campaign group Reporters Without Borders.

No international election monitors from the EU or UN will be present either.

Local civil society group Tournons La Page say they will try to act as observers despite having no official accreditation.

Before Saturday’s vote a row erupted with President Bongo accusing Mr Ondo Ossa and another opposition figure of treason.

The pair deny claims that they were recorded plotting ways to create a power struggle in Gabon and win support from foreign powers, and they have accused the government of “shameful manipulation” in a statement released by Alternance 2023.

As well as voting for their choice of president and MPs, the people of Gabon are also choosing mayors and local councillors.

Gabon has a total population of 2.3 million people and enjoys oil wealth and rich swathes of rainforest.

But the global economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has led to declining exports of raw materials.

  • Reuters