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Gabon - Politics

On 07 January 2019, the government of Gabon announced it had regained control of the capital, Libreville, after an attempted coup, during rebel military elements took control in the early hours of the day of the state broadcasting offices and major thoroughfare in Libreville. Coup leader, and self-declared Patriotic Movement of the Defense and Security Forces of Gabon, Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang read a communique over the air, declaring that President Ali Bongo's New Year address had 'reinforced doubts about the president's ability to continue to carry out of the responsibilities of his office', calling for a public uprising made of 'all young people from forces for the defense and security and Gabonese young people', and announcing the establishement of a 'national restoration council'. Fighting at the state broadcasting office resulted in the deaths of two of the army rebels and the capture of five members of the group, including Obiang. The coupt attempt followed the hospitalization of Gabon's President Ali Bongo Ondimba in Riyadh on 24 October 2018, following a stroke, and ongoing recovery treatment in Morocco.

Violence related to politics is relatively rare in Gabon, although elections can be a time of heightened tensions. Political rallies and social protests may occur spontaneously in Libreville. Even gatherings intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational or violent.

The court's review of the 2009 elections had been prompted by claims of fraud by the many opposition candidates, with the initial announcement of election results sparking unprecedented violent protests in Port-Gentil, the country's second-largest city and a long-time bastion of opposition to PDG rule. The citizens of Port-Gentil took to the streets, and numerous shops and residences were burned, including the French Consulate and a local prison. Officially, only four deaths occurred during the riots, but opposition and local leaders claim many more. Gendarmes and the military were deployed to Port-Gentil to support the beleaguered police, and a curfew was in effect for more than 3 months.

A partial legislative by-election was held in June 2010. A newly created coalition of parties, the Union Nationale (UN), participated for the first time. The UN was composed largely of PDG defectors who left the party after Omar Bongo’s death. Of the five hotly contested seats, the PDG won three and the UN won two; both sides claimed victory.

In January 2011, Andre Mba Obame, the Secretary General of the UN coalition, swore himself in as President, established a parallel government, and occupied the United Nations Development Program headquarters in Libreville for a month. Mba Obame believed himself the rightful winner of the 2009 presidential election despite coming in third according to the official count. In response to Mba Obame’s self-proclamation, the government dissolved the UN for violating the country’s unity (per Article 94 of the constitution). Further, on May 5, 2011, Gabon’s National Assembly voted to dissolve Mba Obame’s immunity as a member of parliament. Mba Obame departed the country for medical treatment.

On June 17, 2011, the Gabonese parliament adopted a law on the protection of personal data to allow for the introduction of biometrics in Gabon’s future elections. In the lead-up to legislative elections held December 17, 2011, opposition groups threatened a boycott based on the failure to implement a biometrics system. Voter turnout remained historically low. The ruling PDG won by a landslide, gaining 114 of the 120 seats in the National Assembly. The elections were deemed free and fair by external observers. In February 2012, Raymond Ndong Sima was selected as Prime Minister. Several new ministers also were named.

Municipal elections on December 14, 2013 were held without incident. University students have a history of holding protests to express grievances over unpaid stipends, curriculum reforms, and student expulsions (for participation in previous protests). High school and middle school students also have a history of gathering for street protests in Libreville and other cities due to public schoolteachers’ strikes that periodically shut down Gabonese schools.

As recently as early 2015, there were instances of students throwing rocks and police using tear gas to disperse crowds, but reports of serious injuries are rare. In one notable exception, a December 20, 2014 opposition rally resulted in violence and one confirmed death. Partly in response to conciliatory moves from the government, including the lifting of a ban on the opposition Union Nationale party in February, 2015, the opposition adopted more moderate tactics in early 2015. As Gabon approached Presidential elections in 2016, however, political tensions and protests increased.

Upwards of half a million voters went to the polls 03 September 2016 to pick their next president in a one-round election. Eleven candidates are running, including incumbent president Ali Bongo, the son of Omar Bongo, who ruled the Central African nation for over four decades, and opposition leader Jean Ping, a former ally of the elder Bongo. Gabon does not have a run-off system, so the candidate with the most votes in the 10-candidate field wins the election. The results may hinge on popular discontent over the state of the Gabonese economy, which relies heavily on oil revenue and has been deeply affected by the drop of oil prices in recent years.

Bongo was seeking a second seven-year term in office. He took power in 2009, after the death of his father. Ping was running to end a near half-century of Bongo family rule. Jean Ping, 73, a former African Union Commission chairman, is the son of a Chinese immigrant. Ping is a former ally of Bongo’s father. He was a minister in Omar Bongo’s governments and even married his daughter. He switched over to the opposition in 2014.

Official results showed Bongo with 49.8 percent of the vote and challenger Ping with 48.2 percent. Ping disputed the official election results that showed him losing by about 5,000 votes to Bongo. He said his campaign had evidence the election was rigged and plans to present it to Gabon's constitutional court. At issue are the results from one province where the results showed nearly 100 percent voter turnout, with Bongo receiving 95 percent of the votes.

Protests erupted in Gabon following the announcement on 31 August 2016 of Bongo’s re-election. Bongo had narrowly defeated his challenger Jean Ping in a nationwide vote. Interior Minister Pacome Moubelet Boubeya said more than 1,000 people have been arrested nationwide, including as many as 800 in the capital. He confirmed three deaths in the violence.

Buildings throughout downtown Libreville, including the National Assembly, were set ablaze. There were also attempts to set fire to City Hall, the broadcasting house, a state newspaper’s headquarters and various residences. The city hall in Gabon’s second largest city and major seaport, Port-Gentil, was burned down. Most of the protesters were young men in their 20s, but it was unclear whether people who have taken to the streets are making a political statement or simply taking advantage of the situation. Whenever there is a political crisis, people would go outside and begin looting whatever is out there.

The US Embassy stated that voters were not well served by the many systemic flaws and irregularities that we witnessed. The late openings of many polling stations, delayed arrival of polling officials and party representatives, last minute changes to voting procedures, and poor understanding of existing rules, regulations and procedures contributed to confusion at many polling places.

Gabon's constitutional court upheld the victory of Ali Bongo in the presidential elections. The court said 24 September 2016 that Bongo had the lead over his rival Jean Ping in the elections but the ballots could not be re-counted in full as they were burned after counting at the polling stations. The constitutional court stressed that the opposition and Ping would be held responsible for any clashes that might erupt after its ruling.

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Page last modified: 08-01-2019 01:21:58 ZULU