The Gabonese vote on Saturday to decide whether or not to entrust a third term to President Ali Bongo Ondimba, facing Albert Ondo Ossa, his most serious rival, behind whom most of the opposition sided late.
Fourteen contenders are competing for this presidential election, just under 850,000 registered voters out of some 2.3 million inhabitants also being called upon to vote for the legislative and municipal elections, all in one ballot.
At the end of the morning, dozens of voters were waiting in front of polling stations in the center of Libreville, whose streets, decked out in the only colors of Camp Bongo, were surprisingly almost deserted for a Saturday, noted an AFP journalist.
These elections are taking place in the absence of foreign media, which have been refused accreditation or entry into the country, Reporter sans Frontières (RSF) denounced on Friday, and without international observers, African or European.
Mr. Ondo Ossa promises to “drive out” of power through the ballot box the president and his all-powerful Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) and to put an end to a “Bongo dynasty” at the head for more than 55 years of a power whom the opposition accuses of bad governance and of being plagued by “corruption”.
Ali Bongo, president for 14 years, was first elected in 2009 after the death of his father Omar Bongo Ondimba, who had ruled the country for more than 41 years.
In the middle of the morning, Mr. Ondo Ossa already denounced on his Facebook account the “malice” of the opposing camp, ensuring that the ballots of five opposition candidates who officially withdrew in his favor were still present in certain offices of vote, or his absent in others.
When questioned, the Gabonese Elections Center (CGE), the body which organizes the polls, refused to answer and referred AFP to the heads of the offices incriminated by the opposition for any comment.
Mr. Ondo Ossa, 69, little known to the general public until then, had been chosen by the main opposition parties, gathered in the Alternance 2023 platform, just eight days before the ballot and only had six to campaign. When Mr. Bongo, 64, has been pursuing a high-profile tour of the country for several months, and has been leading a massive campaign for two weeks, all with considerable means, “those of the State”, accuses the opposition.
The head of state systematically gathered thousands, even tens of thousands, of supporters, but Mr. Ondo Ossa, in a six-day marathon, drained comparable crowds in places. Within a week, the vast majority of other opposition parties and platforms called to vote for him.
The presidential and legislative polls are grouped together in a single vote through a single ballot for presidential and parliamentary candidates from the same party. An “iniquitous ballot”, vociferates the opposition, which denounces a “fraudulent maneuver” to favor the Bongo camp, flouting “the freedom to vote” and “the separation of powers”.
Mr. Ondo Ossa, associate university professor of economics, former minister of Omar Bongo, urges Gabonese to “ignore” the legislative elections to focus on the presidential election, “the only issue of the elections”. Because, independent candidate, his single ballot does not include a pretender to the deputies. He has promised to dissolve the National Assembly resulting from Saturday’s vote if he is elected president.
The opposition had already criticized a “modification of the rules of the game” five months ago to tailor a re-election to the incumbent, by ironing the ballot from two to one round, therefore winnable by a relative majority for Mr. Bongo, against 13 candidates.
In 2016, he was re-elected, but laboriously, with only 5,500 votes ahead of opponent Jean Ping, who denounced “fraud”.
A stroke in October 2018 left Mr. Bongo invisible for many months and part of the opposition continues, almost five years later, to question his physical and intellectual abilities to lead the country. The majority, she denounces campaigns centered on her health, “without any other program”.
Gabon is one of the richest countries in Africa in GDP per capita, thanks to its oil, its manganese and its wood in particular. But “the country is struggling to translate the wealth of its resources into sustainable and inclusive growth” and a third (32.9%) of its inhabitants live below the poverty line, wrote the World Bank in April 2023.