Gabonese officials announced this week that the country’s Constitutional Court will recount votes from last month’s controversial presidential election, when incumbent Ali Bongo Ondimba defeated opposition leader Jean Ping by just 5,594 votes. Now they’re threatening to arrest Ping if he disagrees with the court’s results and protests in the capital of Libreville turn violent again. In an exclusive interview Wednesday with Foreign Policy, Gabonese Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Moussa-Adamo said that Ping’s goal has been “to create chaos so that the international community will step in and rule the country.” Were that to happen, he predicted, Ping would eventually try to organize new elections and take over the presidency. Moussa-Adamo’s comments, in New York, followed a Libreville press conference Wednesday where government spokesman Alain-Claude Bilie told reporters that “if [Ping] crosses the line, he will be arrested.” Gabon has garnered international attention in the past month as protesters have taken to the streets, claiming the August elections were rigged in favor of Bongo, whose family has ruled the oil-rich nation for decades. Bongo’s camp insists there was no rigging on its side, and has accused Ping of agitating his supporters in order to destabilize the country. It’s unclear how many people have been killed in the post-election violence, as the opposition claims upwards of 100 are dead and the government says the real count is a fraction of that. Around 1,000 people have been arrested.
Though Bongo’s government has agreed that the votes from at least some polling stations will be recounted, it’s refusing to allow African Union observers to observe the process. Moreover, Moussa-Adamo said, all of the ballots were immediately burned after the vote, so “it’s more of a review and a tabulation than a recount.”
He said the burned ballots should come as little surprise. “At every single voting station, the results are read out openly in front of everybody, then everything is tallied, there’s a tally sheet, and the actual ballots are burned in front of everybody,” Moussa-Adamo told FP. Additionally, he said, members of the opposition and ruling parties as well as the independent electoral commission sign the sheets before the ballots are burned.