GetToKnow: Gabon
August 17, 2016
#AfricanHistory: Swaziland
September 6, 2016

Gabon Election Overview

On 27 August, Gabon will hold a presidential election to determine their leader for the next seven years. About 628, 000 registered voters[1] will be able to choose between 14 candidates that have been cleared to contest in the election.[2] The candidates will try to unseat the incumbent President Ali Bongo in the poll in the first round, since the amendment of the constitution in 2003 to first-past-the-post-system meaning the winner does not need to gain an absolute majority.[3]

Ali Bongo represents the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) which has dominated Gabonese elections since the inception of multiparty politics in 1991. [4] Gabon’s main opposition candidates included Guy Nzouba-Ndama, 69, (former PDG member) of the Rally heritage and modernity (RHM), Casimir Oye Mba, 74, (former PDG member: former Prime minister), Raymond Ndong Sima, 61 (former PDG member), and Bruno Ben Moubamba, 49, the youngest candidate and president of the Union of Gabonese people (UPG) to mention a few. Earlier this year, the newly formed United Opposition Front for Change (FOPA) chose former foreign minister Jean Ping as its candidate against Bongo. It is interesting to note that FOPA members include many former supporters of Ali Bongo’s father, Omar Bongo.

Jean Ping, 73, is a former member of the ruling party and once a close ally of both Bongo and his father. The opposition faces an uphill task as they try to unseat Ali Bongo, whose family has been ruling Gabon for half a century. Ali’s father, Omar Ondimba, came to power in 1967 and, by the time he died in 2009, had served as president for over four decades. During much of this tenure, Ali was a central figure, holding such positions as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Defence. Upon Omar’s death, Ali Bongo took over amidst controversial elections, which followed a short transitional period.

Gabon’s political landscape has changed and Ali Bongo faces numerous tough challenges as president. In the buildup of this election, opposition leaders in Gabon denounced Ali Bongos’ candidature for the election citing doubts over his nationality.[5] Also the opposition has described the country as a ‘mess’ under the leader of Bongo.[6]

The main issue that has dominated the election campaign has been the ailing economy. Gabon economy is hugely dependent on oil and the natural resource is responsible for 60% of the state’s budget, 70% of the country’s exports, and 20% of GDP in 2015.[7] The global decline in oil prices has therefore dealt a significant blow to Gabon, which has long failed to diversify its economy. There is a widespread popular discontent, while general strikes have sporadically paralysed the public sector over the past months.[8]

However, with the coming election,Ali Bongo is already  viewed as the winner becasue the electoral system favors the status quo. Reasons point to the fact that elections are organized and supervised by the Ministry of Interior and the electoral commission which neither are fully independent bodies given the influence of the ruling Democratic Party of Gabon (PDG), which has been in power since independence in 1960.[9]

Despite the opposition unifying under Jean Ping to unseat Bongo, the current sentiment is that the attempt is too little too late. [10]

[1] Le Monde Afrique. 2015. Présidentielle gabonaise : dix-huit candidats face à Ali Bongo. Available at:  http://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2016/07/13/presidentielle-gabonaise-qui-sont-les-dix-huit-qui-esperent-battre-ali-bongo_4969168_3212.html#T7tyVtFYKI8KSYGu.99. [Accessed: 24 August 2016].

[2] Oumar Ba, 2016. Gabon’s presidential election: are the opposition’s attempts at unifying too little too late?

African Arguments. Available at:  http://africanarguments.org/2016/08/22/gabons-presidential-election-are-the-oppositions-attempts-at-unifying-too-little-too-late/ . [Accessed: 24 August 2016].

[3] Camara, K. 2016. Gabon-Expert Briefing. Africa Research Institute. Available at: http://www.africaresearchinstitute.org/gabon-expert-briefing/. [Accessed: 22 August].

[4] ibid

[5] Africa News. 2016. Gabon opposition denounces Bongo candidacy. Available at: http://www.africanews.com/2016/06/24/gabon-opposition-denounces-bongo-candidacy/. {Accessed: 24 August 2016].

[6] n2

[7] n2

[8] n6

[9] n5

[10] n2