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Gabon Election: President Ali Bongo Aims for Third Term

Voting has taken place in the oil-rich central African nation of Gabon where President Ali Bongo – who came to power when his father Omar died in 2009 – is hoping to win a third term.

He faces competition from 13 people.

As polls closed, the government announced a curfew and suspension of internet access for security reasons.

On Saturday main opposition candidate Albert Ondo Ossa had complained that many polling stations lacked ballot papers bearing his name.

“Gabon is not the property of the Bongos,” he said on the campaign trail.

Mr Ondo Ossa, a former economics professor and one-time education minister, was appointed as leader of the Alternance 2023 coalition just last week.

The coalition says the names of some of those who have withdrawn from the presidential race are still on the ballot sheet.

As in previous general elections, there are serious concerns about the process.

Both of Mr Bongo’s prior wins were disputed as fraudulent by opponents, and this time around controversial changes were made to voting papers just weeks before election day.

For the first time, voters were asked to mark a single ballot with their choice of a president and MP who must belong to the same party.

Experts say this disadvantages independent candidates – notably Mr Ondo Ossa, who heads the main opposition coalition but lacks a party of his own.

Foreign media have been banned from setting foot in the country to cover Saturday’s vote, says the campaign group Reporters Without Borders.

No international election monitors from the EU or UN were present either.

Local civil society group Tournons La Page said they would try to act as observers despite having no official accreditation.

There were reports of delays at some voting centres, and as voting closed the government announced a curfew starting on Sunday evening and said internet access had been suspended throughout the country.

Communications Minister Rodrigue Mboumba Bissawou said the measures were aimed at countering “calls for violence… and false information”.

Before Saturday’s vote a row erupted, with President Bongo accusing Mr Ondo Ossa and another opposition figure of treason.

The pair deny claims that they were recorded plotting ways to create a power struggle in Gabon and win support from foreign powers, and they have accused the government of “shameful manipulation” in a statement released by Alternance 2023.

As well as voting for their choice of president and MPs, the people of Gabon were also choosing mayors and local councillors.

Gabon has a total population of 2.3 million people and enjoys oil wealth and rich swathes of rainforest.

But the global economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has led to declining exports of raw materials.

Back in 2018, President Bongo suffered a stroke which sidelined him for almost a year and lead to calls for him to step aside.

The following year, a failed coup attempt saw mutinying soldiers sent to prison.

Source : BBC