/ 31 August 2009

Three Gabon candidates claim poll win ahead of results

The three main candidates in Gabon’s presidential election all claimed victory on Monday, French radio said, though no official results were announced and none of the candidates gave figures for their tallies.

Ali Ben Bongo was tipped to win Sunday’s poll to choose a successor to his father Omar Bongo as head of the central African oil-producing state. But he faced a late opposition surge seeking to prevent a dynastic transfer of power.

Voter turnout appeared high on Sunday but heavy rain and a strong security presence meant the streets of the capital Libreville were largely empty during vote counting.

Preliminary results, initially due on Sunday evening, were delayed.

”There are no official results but the three main candidates, Pierre Mamboundou, Ali Ben Bongo and Andre Mba Obame, have all claimed victory,” Radio France International (RFI) reported on Monday morning.

Mamboundou is an opposition stalwart with few ties to the Bongo leadership or the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG). Obame, until July an interior minister and PDG executive, has sought to unite a fractured opposition.

Mamboundou said Gabon was ”turning a page” in its history while Obame said he was ”sure” of having won, RFI said.

The PDG is due to make a declaration on Monday, it said.

Authorities called for calm after widespread allegations of vote-rigging.

”We began this calmly, so let’s end this calmly,” interim President Rose Francine Rogombe said, calling on losing candidates to accept the outcome and not send supporters into the streets.

Opposition to Ben Bongo
Bongo’s death aged 73 in June ended nearly 42 years of rule that brought stability to the country of 1,5-million people, but also allegations he lavished petrodollars on family and friends rather than use them to alleviate poverty.

Investors are banking on a Ben Bongo win and do not expect a reversal in Gabon’s pro-investor policies from any of the main candidates. However, Obame got a boost last Friday when five candidates dropped out to back his campaign.

”There is a mounting groundswell of opposition against frontrunner Ali Ben, which he will have to contend with if he does eventually come to power,” IHS Global Insight analyst Kissy Agyeman-Togobo said.

One candidate, ex-prime minister Casimir Oye Mba, pulled out of the race complaining it would be unfair, but the head of the international observer mission said procedures looked generally acceptable despite the long delays.

Analysts say any successor will have to cope with dwindling oil reserves that will mean the loss of some revenue in the sector, which accounts for half of national output.

The former French colony has exported oil since the 1960s and is one of the few sub-Saharan countries to have launched a Eurobond. It also has substantial manganese and timber industries.

About one-third of Gabonese live in poverty. The last days of Bongo’s rule were overshadowed by investigations into his personal fortune by a judge in France. — Reuters