Gabon votes to pick late leader's successor

30th August 2009, Comments 0 comments

Gabonese voters stood in long lines Sunday to pick a successor to late veteran leader Omar Bongo Ondimba, as his son sought to win the presidency that he held for 41 years.

Libreville - Gabonese voters stood in long lines Sunday to pick a successor to late veteran leader Omar Bongo Ondimba, as his son sought to win the presidency that he held for 41 years.

Hundreds of people queued up in front of schools turned into polling stations which opened two hours late in several districts of the capital Libreville, as voting material arrived late and some election workers were absent.

"It's human. It's not a big deal," said Timothee Nzenguet, an opposition representative in one polling station. "The important thing is that the vote takes place within the rules. We will make up for the late start."

Former defence minister Ali Bongo, who boasts the backing of the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party and a huge campaign war chest, is considered the top contender in a field of 18 candidates.

His father Omar Bongo, 73, was Africa's longest-serving ruler until his death in June.

Opposition candidates have pledged to end what they call deep-rooted corruption as well as bring about a greater distribution of resources.

Ali Bongo, 50, has both defended his father's legacy and labelled detractors turncoats while also pledging change.

"It's not contradictory -- not at all," he told AFP while attending a final campaign rally on Saturday.

Pointing to thousands of supporters chanting his name, he said, "How could I not be confident?"

Gabon is sub-Saharan Africa's fourth biggest oil producer, the world's third biggest provider of manganese -- a metal with industrial metal alloy uses, particularly in stainless steels -- and Africa's second biggest wood exporter.

But an estimated 60 percent of the population of 1.5 million live below the poverty line.

Though candidates have decried the lack of development in the west African nation, several served in the government for years.

Apart from Bongo, the other main heavyweights are Andre Mba Obame, Casimir Oye Mba and radical opposition leader Pierre Mamboundou. All have promised a fairer distribution of Gabon's natural resources.

A total of 23 politicians were originally in the race.

On Friday representatives of five candidates, including former prime minister Jean Eyeghe Ndong and former opposition leader Paul Mba Abessole, told a press conference that they had decided to stand down and support influential former interior minister Mba Obame.

Many candidates have questioned the electoral roll, saying 813,164 eligible voters in a country of 1.5 million was way too high and suggested fraud.

More than 300 observers have been accredited for the vote, including from the African Union, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and a global grouping of francophone countries.

There have been warnings of potential post-election violence.

A group of leading intellectuals in Gabon on Saturday urged all sides not to resort to violence after the election, pointing to "numerous worrying signals" and warning of "confrontations" in the wake of the vote.

France, for decades deeply embroiled in the murky politics of its former colony, has taken pains to insist upon its neutrality in the run-up to the vote.

The country's borders were closed from late Friday and will not reopen until midnight Thursday. Full provisional results may not be available until Tuesday.

Coumba Sylla / AFP / Expatica

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