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Gabon Opposition Candidate, Jean Ping Claims Victory In Presidential Election

Gabon’s main opposition candidate Jean Ping claimed on Sunday he had been elected president, unseating Ali Bongo as leader of the oil-rich Central African country.

Jean Ping
Jean Ping
 Official results are not due out until Tuesday and some voters voiced fears of a repeat of the violence seen after a disputed 2009 election.

“I have been elected. I am waiting for the outgoing president to call to congratulate me,” said Ping, 73, in the capital Libreville, prompting jubilation from hundreds of his supporters. “Ping president!” they chanted. 

“You have foiled the congenital fraud of this regime which we are finally going to see off,” the veteran politician told them. 

Bongo, 57, has been in power since the 2009 election held after the death of his father, Omar, who had ruled Gabon for 41 years. 

Ping, like the current president, worked for many years in Omar Bongo’s administration. 

Both frontrunners had already predicted victory and accused the other of cheating. 

Shortly after polling ended on Saturday, the president’s spokesman said: “Bongo will win… we are already on our way to a second mandate.” 

Bongo’s camp has acknowledged the election is “tight, but we are ahead”. 

Interior Minister Pacome Moubelet Boubeya has said official results would be released around 1600 GMT on Tuesday and stressed it was “illegal to declare results before the relevant authorities do.” 

The head of the Pan-African Democracy Observatory, an NGO based in Togo, played down the significance of Ping’s declaration. 

“We should not be surprised if one or the other declares victory. It’s all part of the game,” Djovi Gally told reporters. 

Coup d’etat?

Fearing a repeat of the violence that followed Bongo’s victory in 2009, many residents, who had stocked up on food, stayed indoors. 

The streets of Libreville were deserted with even shops and stalls that are usually open on Sundays shuttered. 

The French embassy warned its citizens not to travel within the country unless absolutely necessary for the time being and to keep themselves informed. 

“There is no trouble in this district for now but we want to get the results soon,” said one citizen, who gave his name as Honore. 

“We’ll see how the candidates react. I hope it won’t be like last time,” he added. 

Back then, several people were killed in the clashes, buildings were looted and the French consulate in Port Gentil, which saw the worst of the violence, was torched. 

Ping’s campaign coordinator, Jean Gaspard Ntoutoume Ayi, claimed that Bongo would attempt to retain power by force. 

“Ali Bongo has decided to ignore the election and to stay in power. We know from reliable sources that the army is ready to be deployed in Libreville and Port Gentil and all across the country as early as tonight,” said Ayi. 

“This is the situation which we are entering: the election is over, the coup d’etat has started.” 

Bongo’s camp has dismissed such claims as “totally crazy.” 

Powder keg

Emmanuel Edzang, a voter in Libreville, said the capital had the feeling of a “powder keg.” 

“It could go off at any given moment if things don’t go well. There are really strong fears regarding people’s behaviour,” said Edzang. 

Until shortly before polling day, Bongo was the clear favourite, with the opposition split by several prominent politicians vying for the top job. 

But earlier this month, the main challengers pulled out and said they would all back Ping. 

Both candidates have promised to break with the past. 

Faced with repeated charges of nepotism, Bongo has long insisted he owes his presidency to merit and years of government service. 

His extravagant campaign made much of the slogan “Let’s change together”, and of roads and hospitals built during his first term. 

Ping described Bongo’s attempts to diversify the economy away from oil as window dressing. 

One third of Gabon’s population lives in poverty, despite the country boasting one of Africa’s highest per capital incomes at $8,300 (7,400 euros) thanks to pumping 200,000 barrels of oil a day. 

There has been growing popular unrest in recent months, with numerous public sector strikes and thousands of layoffs in the oil sector.

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