Gabon’s president Ali Bongo and his only serious rival have both claimed victory in this weekend’s presidential election, and accused each other of cheating.
Barely had the last ballots been cast Saturday evening before the incumbent’s spokesman declared: “Bongo will win... we are already on our way to a second mandate.”
Bongo, 57, has been in power since a disputed election held in 2009 after the death of his father, Omar Bongo, who had ruled the oil-rich Central African country for 41 years.
On Sunday, the campaign manager of Bongo’s rival Jean Ping told reporters that the former head of the African Union Commission had won 60 percent of votes counted so far, just under half of the total, against 38 percent for the president.
He also accused Bongo of “trying to push his way through,” with the backing of the army.
“That’s totally crazy,” countered Bongo’s spokesman. “It’s tight, but we are ahead.”
Interior minister Pacome Moubelet Boubeya has insisted that only results from the election commission cleared by his ministry had any validity.
Before polling began Boubeya said everything was “in place to guarantee a transparent and impartial election”.
The results of the poll, which is decided by simple majority, should be declared at around 1600 GMT on Tuesday, Boubeya said in a later statement.
“More than ever we appeal for calm and recall that it is illegal to declare results before the relevant authorities do,” added the minister.
Observers from the African Union and European Union have said that aside from some delays, the poll itself, in which some 628,000 people were eligible to vote, passed off without serious incident.
But the acrimony that had marked the campaign period continued into the weekend with each of the main rivals accusing the other of mischief.
“We have observed massive fraud, in particular in areas where opposition representatives arrived in polling stations first,” said Bongo’s spokesman.
As he cast his own ballot Saturday morning, Ping told reporters, “We know the other side is trying to cheat. It is up to you to be vigilant.”
His team had said that a Friday court ruling would allow soldiers, who tend to support Bongo, a former defence minister, to “vote several times in several polling centres”.
Gabonese president Ali Bongo Ondimba arrives to cast his vote at a polling station during the presidential election on Friday. Photo: AFP
On Sunday, the streets of the capital, Libreville, were almost deserted.
Fearing a repeat of the violence that followed Bongo’s victory in 2009, many residents, who had stocked up on food, stayed indoors.
Even those shops and stalls usually open on Sundays were shuttered.
“There is no trouble in this district for now but we want to get the results soon,” said Honore, a watchman.
“We’ll see how the candidates react. I hope it won’t be like last time,” he added.
In the clashes that followed the 2009 victory, several people were killed, buildings were looted and the French consulate in Port Gentil, which saw the words of the violence, was torched.
Until shortly before polling day, Bongo was the clear favourite, with the opposition split by several prominent politicians vying for the top job.
But earlier this month, the main challengers pulled out and said they would all back Ping.
Both candidates have promised to break with the past.
Faced with repeated charges of nepotism, Bongo has long insisted he owes his presidency to merit and years of government service.
His extravagant campaign made much of the slogan “Let’s change together”, and of roads and hospitals built during his first term.
Ping described Bongo’s attempts to diversify the economy away from oil as window dressing.
One third of Gabon’s population lives in poverty, despite the country boasting one of Africa’s highest per capita incomes at $8,300 (7,400 euros) thanks to pumping 200,000 barrels of oil a day.
There has been growing popular unrest in recent months, with numerous public sector strikes and thousands of layoffs in the oil sector.