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Gabon to Recount Presidential Ballots

By Scott Stearns
27 September 2009

Gabon's constitutional court has ordered that all presidential ballots be recounted, following complaints from opposition candidates that the results are fraudulent. The son of Gabon's long-time ruler Omar Bongo has been declared the winner of last month's vote.

Constitutional Court President Marie Madeleine Mboramsou'o says the court has decided that all of the votes from the August 30 election should be recounted.

Mboramsou'o says candidate representatives are invited to observe the recount, which will begin at 2:00 Tuesday afternoon. She says results from all of the more than 2,800 polling stations will be reexamined.

Former Defense Minister Ali Ben Bongo was declared the winner of the election with nearly 42 percent of ballots cast. Former Interior Minister, Andre Mba Obame and opposition leader Pierre Mamboundou each finished with about 25 percent of the vote.

The constitutional court recount follows an electoral challenge by Mr. Obame, Mr. Mamboundou, and several other candidates who accuse electoral officials of vote fraud to benefit Mr. Bongo. The court has until October 18 to rule on that challenge.

Mboramsou'o says if the court finds the results should be annulled, the election will be held again. If the court confirms the results, she says the candidate who was initially declared the winner will be inaugurated.

Former Prime Minister Jean Ndong says opposition candidates initially filed individual challenges but have since agreed to combine them in a single lawsuit. Mr. Ndong says uniting their legal challenges shows opposition solidarity behind a common goal -- that the election should be cancelled and re-run because of fraud and intimidation by the ruling party.

Most electoral observers say they believe the vote was fair, despite irregularities - including security forces at polling stations, ballot boxes not properly sealed, and the absence of opposition representatives during some vote counting.

Government spokesman Rene Ndemezo'o Obiang says the opposition has a constitutional right to challenge the result, but he dismisses accusations of electoral misconduct.

Mr. Obiang says Gabon's independent electoral commission and its interior ministry did their jobs and have already announced who won the vote.

Mr. Bongo was considered the front-runner since his father's death in June, after 42 years in power. Mr. Bongo ran the best-financed campaign and benefited from the electoral infrastructure of the ruling party.

But the announcement of his victory was delayed several days by disputes within the electoral commission over its authority to investigate allegations of fraud.

When he was declared the winner, security forces drove off opposition supporters in the capital with tear gas. Demonstrators in the city of Port Gentil burned the French Consulate and attacked offices of French and U.S. oil companies. The government says three people were killed in that violence. Opposition groups say the death toll was at least 15.

Interim President Rose Francine Rogombe says an investigation is underway to determine who was responsible for the violence.

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