/ 29 November 2005

Opposition claims early lead in Gabon vote

The final results from Gabon’s presidential vote are expected on Tuesday, election officials said, as an opposition candidate claimed an early lead despite reports giving the 38-year incumbent the edge.

The full results of the election will be announced ”at the latest” by Tuesday evening, Gilbert Ngoulakia, head of the National Election Commission, said on Monday.

Gabon’s public television and two private channels reported results from several cities and departments that showed, as expected, that President Omar Bongo would defeat his four challengers.

However, one of his main opponents, Pierre Mamboundou (59) claimed that he would come out on top in the presidential poll based on a partial count of a little more than one-third of the votes cast.

”Based on the figures we have now, we are largely ahead of candidate Omar Bongo,” said Mamboundou, head of the Gabonese People’s Union (GPU), at a press conference.

By late morning on Monday, ”we were credited with some 43% out of 35% of votes cast”, the GPU leader said.

The other main challenger in the race, Zacharie Myboto (67), a former information minister once close to Bongo, also claimed his stake at victory and charged ”massive fraud” in Sunday’s ballot, according to his campaign manager.

”The people of Gabon are sad today and I do not know if tomorrow that sadness will be turned into anger,” the manager, Clemence Mezui, said.

Ngloulakia said the election commission had not received any official complaints on the ballot, while foreign observers so far have declined to comment on accusations of fraud, though noting the low turnout.

Election officials said turnout was low at between 30% and 40% at several polling stations in the capital. In the 1998 presidential vote, the nationwide abstention rate passed 46%.

The weak voter participation was ”the obvious sign of a very great political weariness” in the Central African country, said an African observer who wished to remain anonymous.

The 69-year-old Bongo, the longest-serving African leader, was supported by a political coalition of more than 40 parties and has maintained an iron grip on the media. — Sapa-AFP