LIBREVILLE, Aug. 31 (Infosplusgabon) - Gabon voted yesterday in presidential elections in which the son of the man who ruled sub-Saharan Africa’s fifth-biggest oil-producing nation for more than four decades will probably be elected.
Ali-Ben Bongo Ondimba, the 50-year-old former defense minister, is among 23 candidates. The backing of the security apparatus and support of the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party, or PDG, make Bongo the firm favorite, said analysts including Kissy Agyeman-Togobo, senior country analyst at IHS Global Insight in London.
“With a well-financed and efficiently managed campaign, along with the support of the PDG machinery, which is indistinct from the state apparatus, Ali-Ben’s chances of election victory are high,” Agyeman-Togobo said in a phone interview on Aug. 26.
Gabon, a central African nation of 1.5 million people, has had only two elected presidents since it gained independence from France in 1960. Bongo’s father came to office following the death of the country’s first president, Leon M’Ba, in 1967. Omar Bongo was the world’s longest-serving national leader at the time of his death at the age of 73 in June.
Bongo’s populist stance may also gain him votes, after he promised to increase social housing by building 5,000 new homes a year and raise the minimum wage to 150,000 CFA francs ($326) a month from about 80,000 francs, Agyeman-Togobo said.
The country’s more than 813,000 registered voters cast their ballots at 7:30 a.m. today and continued voting until 7:45 p.m. local time. Results are expected by Sept. 2.
Many polling stations didn’t receive their ballot papers on time this morning, causing long delays in voting.
“We are voting for the first time since 1993,” said Ignace Koumba, a history teacher lining up to vote in the capital Libreville. “There is a real great interest to be here. We can wait all day. We brought our sandwiches.”
Opposition challengers include Pierre Mamboundou, the candidate of the Union of the Gabonese People, who advocates a health system for all citizens, and former Prime Minister Jean Eyeghe Ndong, who has promised to ensure that all Gabonese benefit from the nation’s resources.
In addition to being an oil producer, Gabon is also the world’s fourth-biggest producer of manganese, which is used to strengthen steel, according the Web site of the U.S. Geological Survey. It also produces lumber and sold $1 billion of Eurobonds in 2007.
While the country’s per capita gross domestic product of $14,400 is four times that of most sub-Saharan African countries, a large proportion of the population remains poor because of high income inequality, according to the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook.
“Bongo’s main strategic task over the next decade will be to transform the sleepy oil-rich country into a less oil- dependent dynamic economy, while deepening the country’s democracy,” Sebastian Spio-Garbrah, Africa analyst at Eurasia Group in New York, said in an e-mailed response to questions.
Oil accounted for about 50 percent of economic output in 2008, according to the Web site of the African Development Bank. Production dropped to 12.06 million metric tons last year from 12.13 million tons a year earlier, it said.
“The decline may continue in 2009 if no major new deposits are found,” the bank said.
The buildup to the election was marred by politically fuelled unrest in Libreville and claims by opposition leaders including Mamboundou that the vote may be rigged.
Those factors point to the ballot being “undemocratic,” said Almami Cyllah, regional director for Africa at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems in Washington, which provides technical assistance to electoral commissions in countries including Angola, Sudan and Guinea.
“If these elections go on in a democratic fashion, it’s going to be encouraging,” Cyllah said in a phone interview. “However, we don’t see that happening. The opposition is not thrilled about it becoming a political dynasty and they don’t see a level playing field.”
The Constitutional Court will announce the final results about Sept. 5. An exact date hasn’t been decided because “certainly there will be complaints,” Marie Madeleine Mborantsuo, the president of the court, said on state radio on Aug. 25.
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