Gabon voted on Saturday amid discontent over its failure to raise living standards despite oil wealth, in a poll posing the biggest challenge yet to President Ali Bongo, whose family has run the central African nation for half a century. With state machinery and entrenched patronage networks behind him, Bongo, 57, is likely to be returned, seven years after winning his first election following the death of his father Omar, who ruled for 42 years. Polls closed at 7 p.m. (2.00 p.m ET), an hour late to allow people were still waiting to vote to do so. Voting was mostly calm, although witnesses said a few scuffles broke out in one area as tempers flared in long queues to cast ballots. Results are not expected until Monday or Tuesday, although partial results may start trickling out on Sunday. Land and sea borders were shut on Saturday until 8 p.m. (1900 GMT).
Bongo faced nine other candidates – compared with 22 in the last poll – but his main rival was veteran diplomat Jean Ping. “The day of glory has arrived and we are preparing as you can see to celebrate victory,” Ping, 73, said shortly after voting in Martine Oulabou school, in the capital Libreville.
Ping faces an uphill struggle, not least because Gabon’s one-round system means the winner doesn’t need a majority, just more votes than any other candidate. In 2009, Bongo won with 41.73 percent.