"I need a majority in the national assembly to put to work my project ’Acts for Gabon’," the diminutive president said, referring to a development plan for the country which helped him win his latest term.
"You are your own masters : make the right choice. Give me the tools to work," he added at a recent campaign rally during the parliamentary election campaign.
Bongo’s Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) already dominates parliament with more than 90 of 120 seats but the ruling coalition has seemed deeply divided in the run-up to the polls.
Gabon, sometimes described as the "African Emirates" because of its oil wealth, is one of central Africa’s more stable countries. But previous assembly elections have been marred by boycotts by the opposition, which complained of poll rigging.
This time however, major opposition parties are fielding candidates among the 877 contenders running for assembly seats.
The former French colony, which sits on the equator and is largely covered by rainforest, has a per capita income far above the African average, thanks to its oil wealth and tiny population of around 1.4 million people.
But oil output is declining and the wealth is unevenly spread. Luxury hotels and chic boutiques line the sea-front of the capital Libreville while its backstreets are pot-holed and shabby.
Bongo’s opponents have tried to tap into popular discontent over inequality and unemployment in the country, where despite reserves of oil, timber, manganese gold, iron ore and uranium, well over half the population live below the poverty line.
JOCKEYING FOR POSITION
Opposition leaders are sceptical about the fairness of the poll process.
"There have never been transparent elections in Gabon," said Pierre Mamboundou, Bongo’s leading opponent, who was forced to seek refuge in the South African embassy earlier this year after a police raid on his party offices.
Despite their reservations, the participation of Mamboundou, leader of the Gabon People’s Union (UPG) party, as well as other key opposition leaders has been welcomed by analysts as giving credibility to Sunday’s vote.
The opposition Gabonese Union for Democracy and Development (UGDD) led by former presidential contender and ex-Bongo ally Zacharie Myboto is also fielding candidates in the polls.
But some observers see a hidden agenda in opposition leaders’ decision to stand : a desire to raise their profiles as they jockey for position to succeed the ageing Bongo.
"There seems to be a desire by prominent political leaders to re-assert their political strengths in the face of the power vacuum created by Bongo’s four-decade predominance at the helm of the country," Adrien Feniou, an Africa analyst at research group Global Insight, said in a recent note.
Bongo dismissed local media speculation in October that ministers were jockeying to succeed him, saying he had no heir apparent and that the succession was not "up for grabs".
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