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Gabon Court to Rule Thursday on Legitimacy of Presidential Vote

By Scott Stearns
30 September 2009

Gabon's constitutional court expects to decide the legitimacy of the country's presidential vote Thursday.The court is recounting ballots following an opposition lawsuit alleging fraud in last months vote.

Gabon's constitutional court began recounting returns from all of the more than 2,800 polling stations without representatives from opposition candidates.

They stayed away from the recount because the court would not allow each of them to have both a political representative and a bailiff present.

The recount follows an opposition lawsuit challenging the results because it says returns from more than two-thirds of polling stations were manipulated in favor of ruling-party candidate Ali Ben Bongo.

The constitutional court has until October 18 to decide the case. But court president Marie Madeleine Mborantsuo expects a ruling Thursday, depending on how long the recount takes.

If the court finds the results should be annulled, Mborantsuo says the election will be held again. If the court confirms Mr. Bongo's victory, he will be inaugurated.

Official returns say the former defense minister won nearly 42 percent of the vote. Former interior minister Andre Mba Obame and opposition leader Pierre Mamboundou each finished with about 25 percent of the vote.

Because of the court's refusal to allow opposition representatives at the recount, Obame says it "has no value" for the opposition or the truth that he says they are looking for.

The announcement of Mr. Bongo's victory was delayed several days by divisions within the electoral commission over its authority to investigate allegations of vote fraud. When the son of long-time Gabonese leader Omar Bongo was declared the winner, police dispersed opposition demonstrators in the capital with tear gas.

Protestors in the city of Port Gentil burned the French consulate and attacked offices of French and U.S. oil firms. The government says three people were killed in that violence. Opposition parties put the death toll at at least 15.

Since winning election, Mr. Bongo has toured Central Africa meeting with heads of state in Chad, Cameroon, the Congo Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Gabon continues to be led by interim president Rose Francine Rogombe who took office following Omar Bongo's death in June after 42 years in power.

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