Thursday, 1 September 2016

GABON: The Fraught Election--Analysis

Gabon, a small but oil-rich country on the Atlantic coast of Central Africa that is home to around 1.7 million people, voted for president on August 27, in which Ali Bongo was declared winner, reinforcing patterns of dynastic succession in small African countries that are ostensibly democracies, but in reality autocracies.

Angry protesters set fire to Gabon's national assembly on Wednesday as thousands of people took the streets after an announcement that President Ali Bongo has been re-elected. The national assembly lies on the same road as several important institutions, among them the Senate, the oil ministry, several embassies and the headquarter of state television.

The clashes erupted as soon as Bongo was declared the winner of Saturday's presidential poll, with opposition supporters chanting ''Ali Must Go''. As chaos erupted on the street outside, Bongo hailed the outcome of the election, which he declared had been ''peaceful and transparent'' despite the opposition crying foul.

Interior Minister Pacome Moubelet Boubeya said on Wednesday that Bongo has obtained 49.80% percent of Saturday's vote, beating rival candidate Jean Ping who received 48.23%. Bongo won by only 5,594 votes, of a total 627, 805 registered voters. Election Commission members belonging to the opposition immediately denounced the result, with one commissioner for Ping's party, Paul Marie Gondjout, saying the vote had been stolen, and refuse to accept the result.

The opposition demanded a recount on the province of Haut Ogooue, where Bongo won 95% of the vote. Results from the province showed a turnout of 90%, compared with a nationwide turnout of 56.46 percent.

On Thursday, two people were killed, when ''La Garde Nationale'' ransacked the opposition headquarter, and took away thousands of documents, including the electoral commission results which could undermine Bongo's victory. The president of Electoral Commission has resigned and revealed that Bongo's camp made personal death threats to members of electoral commission (CENAP), confirming the opposition allegations of  possible tampering with the outcome of Saturday's presidential election

Bongo, who has now won a second term as head of the tiny-oil-rich state, previously ruled for 41 years by his father, is not a stranger to election rigging allegations. In 2009, Bongo was declared winner of the presidential election after his father's death. The result was disputed and in the ensuing clashes several people were killed, buildings looted and the French consulate in the economic capital Port-Gentil was torched.

There are fears of a post-election tensions that could potentially increase the political and economic tensions in Gabon. It seems politically clear that Bongo wishes to hold on to power regardless of the opposition allegations of vote rigging by influencing the electoral body that is not independent and the constitutional court that hears election disputes, with judges whose appointment was influenced by the president.

Some of Constitutional Court judges are starting to sing Bongo's tune that Ping broke the electoral rule that barres candidates from publishing results before the electoral commission releases them, by publishing on Sunday figures that showed him winner of the Saturday election. On the other hand, Ping,  a 73 year old career diplomat well known on the international scene, a former chair of the African Union Commission and the son of Chinese immigrant, who worked with Bongo senior for many years, has accused Bongo of being born outside Gabon---an automatic disqualifications from the race.

Bongo's opponents will be limited in their ability to provoke widespread disorder and political paralysis in Gabon. Moreover, opposition figures, including Ping, often have little external support, making rebellion highly improbable. The PDG, backed by the resources of a nation, can easily clamp down on dissent if it chooses, much like the Republic of Congo did after its elections in March..

Still, in the unlikely event that a disgruntled opposition could instigate a rebellion following an electoral loss, it would be difficult for the French government to stand by and do nothing. France could be forced to act to safeguard its interests in Gabon, the most important of which are stability and the safety of French nationals and supply lines. But short of significant threat to Gabon's security, Paris is unlikely to intervene in its affairs, giving Bongo free rein to assure the survival of his presidency.

The Saturday fraught presidential election has already opened cracks within the ruling party and fragilized Bongo's reign. An unprecedented number of members of Bongo's ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) have defected to the opposition. The defectors may signal trouble on the horizon for the Bongo family. The departure of several old-guard PDG officials could indicate that the cash-strapped government is starting to lose its grip over the Gabonese political system.

Bongo and his party mobilized the massive state resources at their disposal to secure a victory, particularly since an electoral loss would have jeopardized, not only Bongo's rule but also the political system that has run the country from its infancy.

In this political junction, France's role in Gabon could mean the difference between peaceful transition and further discontent. France relies less on Bongo's Gabon than it did on his father's, and its apathy toward the current president could result in inaction.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist
African Politics Expert

Photo-Credit: AFP-Photo of Protest in Gabon, after the announcement of Saturday Presidential Election, Wednesday, May 31st 2016, Libreville-Gabon