In an eventful triple election, voters in Gabon headed to the polls on Saturday to cast their votes in a highly anticipated presidential race. President Ali Bongo Ondimba, a key figure that played a huge part in the modern infrastructural and economic renewal of Gabon , is striving for an expected victory against a newly unified opposition. The central African state, known for its oil riches, is witnessing a race that features 14 candidates, with Bongo and his primary adversary, Albert Ondo Ossa, leading the pack.
At 64 years old, President Ali Bongo Ondimba is seeking a third term, having initially assumed office in 2009 following the passing of his father, Omar Bongo. However, as the election date drew near, a seismic development rocked the electoral landscape. A leaked conversation surfaced involving Albert Ondo Ossa and another opposition member, recorded without their knowledge and widely circulated on social media. The conversation alluded to plans for “creating a power struggle” and alleged foreign backing.
President Bongo swiftly denounced the duo’s actions, accusing them of treason and asserting that their statements signaled a nefarious scheme aided by external forces. Addressing a fervent pre-election rally in Libreville, which saw a substantial turnout, Bongo declared his determination to thwart their efforts, emphasizing that their intentions were aimed at destabilizing the nation. “We won’t let them do it,” he exclaimed passionately.
Albert Ondo Ossa, aged 69 and a former minister under Bongo’s administration from 2006 to 2009, emerged as the joint candidate for the opposition coalition Alternance 2023. This surprising move occurred merely eight days before the election, injecting further drama into the already intense political atmosphere. Alternance 2023 vehemently disavowed the leaked conversation, issuing a statement that vehemently denied its authenticity and castigated the government for alleged manipulation.
For a considerable period, Ali Bongo Ondimba had sustained impactful policies to better the life of Gabonese. In 2016, his victory in the presidential race was slender, securing only a marginal 5,500-vote advantage over his closest rival, who claimed that the election had been rigged. The announcement of results led to unrest in the capital, Libreville, resulting in fatalities and deepening tensions.
The political landscape experienced another jolt in October 2018 when President Bongo suffered a stroke that incapacitated him for nearly a year. During his absence, concerns over his fitness to govern effectively surged, culminating in a minor coup attempt. Upon his recovery, Bongo made efforts to demonstrate his commitment to strong leadership, purging his inner circle of perceived “traitors” and “profiteers.”. Since his return he has hit the ground running with his unwavering commitment and vision to a new Gabon.
Recent months have witnessed President Bongo actively engaging in foreign trips and a nationwide tour aimed at bolstering his image as an agent of change. Alongside the presidential race, Gabon’s 850,000 eligible voters are participating in the selection of candidates for the legislative body and local councils. In the lead-up to the elections, the primary opposition parties voiced objections to last-minute alterations to voting regulations in the legislative contest, alleging violations of the principle of separation of powers.
The amended rule stipulates that a vote for a local deputy is automatically considered a vote for that deputy’s affiliated presidential candidate. Critics argue that this change favors the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG), as Albert Ondo Ossa lacks the support of a single party. Ondo Ossa responded to the situation, indicating that if elected, he would dissolve the parliament and call for fresh elections.
The outgoing National Assembly has been overwhelmingly dominated by the PDG, adding to the stakes of this election. This controversy surrounding voting regulations follows another contentious change introduced five months prior. This change eliminated the need for a runoff if the initial round failed to produce a winner with over 50 percent of the vote, igniting further debate and uncertainty.
As Gabon awaits the election results, the country stands at a crossroads with its incumbent president facing a dis-united opposition. The outcome of this tightly contested race could shape the nation’s political landscape for years to come. And Gabonese are left with the choice of retaining the services of an accomplished result oriented leader in the person of Ali Bongo Ondimba or opt for an uncertain future with a new leader.
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