The presidential elections in Gabon have been keeping those following the outcome of the race on the edge of their seats for several days. The vote took place on Saturday 26 August, but results were only announced late on Wednesday afternoon. According to the final tally announced by the minister of the interior, the incumbent Ali Bongo won by 49.8%, while his rival, Jean Ping, got 48.23%. Just over 628 000 people took part in the vote in the Central African country of 1.8 million inhabitants. The opposition strongly disputes this outcome and says votes were manipulated – especially in Bongo’s stronghold of Haut-Ogooué, where the incumbent got over 90% of the votes. Following the announcement of the results, opposition supporters reportedly torched a part of the Parliament building in Libreville – an ominous sign of possible escalating post-election violence. Ping (73), a former foreign minister who headed the African Union Commission between 2008 and 2012, was confident earlier in the race. He told the media on Sunday, 29 August – a day after the vote and before any results were released – that he had won the elections and that his predecessor should accept it. He repeated this statement on Tuesday saying that his opponent, Bongo (57) should prepare to hand over power.
Was Ping being undemocratic, or did he know something ordinary Gabonese didn’t? According to Jean-Baptiste Placca, well-known Franco-African commentator, Ping was part of the system for so long that he knew full well something had to be done to prevent the regime from cheating. ‘By announcing early that he had won, he prepared his supporters to defend him in case the regime grabs power,’ he told ISS Today telephonically from Paris.
One of the problems with the electoral system in Gabon and other Central African states, like Cameroon, is that results aren’t released progressively. This increases the possibility for electoral fraud. Instead, all results are collected at one central location and are then announced by the Permanent National Electoral Commission (CENAP). ‘In many other African countries, results are released progressively – which makes it far more difficult to cheat,’ Placca said.
A lot of confusion surrounded the tallying of the votes. By early afternoon on Wednesday, it was still impossible to get a clear view of who would be the winning candidate. This was despite the regular updates, with graphs and pie charts to boot, distributed by unofficial vote-counters on Twitter. The government dismissed these.