Security forces fanned out across Gabon’s capital and residents stockpiled food on Tuesday as the central African country awaited results of a hotly contested presidential election. The most prominent opposition candidate, Jean Ping, was looking to defeat incumbent President Ali Bongo Ondimba and topple a family dynasty that stretches back to the 1960s. Bongo, 57, came to power after the death of his father, Omar Bongo, who ruled Gabon for more than 40 years. Ping, 73, has spent the three days since Saturday’s vote predicting victory and calling on Bongo to step down. Bongo’s camp, meanwhile, has said the president is sure to win.
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).
Gabon’s main opposition parties chose former foreign minister Jean Ping as their candidate in an election on Aug. 27 against President Ali Bongo, who is standing for a second term. Ping, aged 74, is considered one of Africa’s foremost diplomats. He has served as chairman of the African Union commission and as president of the U.N. General Assembly. “I understand the gravity of the task I have been given,” Ping told thousands of cheering supporters in Libreville. “I won’t disappoint you.” Ping has an unusual history for an African politician. His father was a Chinese businessman who came to Gabon in the 1930s, married the daughter of a traditional chief and grew rich trading goods including timber and seafood. Ping came to wealth and prominence as an ally and protege of Omar Bongo, the father of Ali Bongo. But he fell out with the son and resigned from the ruling party in 2014 to become a vehement government critic.