, LIBREVILLE Aug 31 – The three main candidates in oil-rich Gabon’s presidential election all claimed victory on Monday after voters turned out in force to choose a successor to Africa’s longest-ruling leader.
Preliminary election results were not due to be announced until later in the day but former defence minister Ali Bongo, long-time opposition leader Pierre Mamboundou and the ex-interior minister Andre Mba Obame all insisted after the polls closed on Sunday night that they had won most votes.
As the son of Omar Bongo Ondimba – who ruled the former French colony for 41 years before his death in June – Ali Bongo was seen as the favourite to take power in the polls and his party did not bother waiting until the count was completed before proclaiming him victor.
Bongo himself even expressed hope he would gain an absolute majority in a field of 18 candidates.
"Our feeling is, and we think, we are going… to get very good results," he told the private Impala television channel, adding that he hoped his score would approach 50 percent.
"That is the target we have set ourselves," he said.
Faustin Boukoubi, secretary general of Bongo’s ruling PDG party, said: "The results are going to give us a victory, a big victory."
There were similarly bullish pronouncements from Mamboundou who has already begun talking about his government’s economic plan and from Mba Obame who said voters had shown "a strong desire to make a break" from the past.
"It will take a miracle to stop us," Mba Obame told AFP.
Mba Obame said he had won four of nine provinces while Mamboundou would likely emerge ahead in three of them and Ali Bongo in the remaining two.
While there were isolated incidents of violence, the vote passed off largely peacefully and a heavy turnout ensured lengthy queues outside polling stations.
Gabon’s interim president Rose Francine Rogombe urged calm and exhorted the candidates to accept the result.
"Democracy is about accepting success and defeat," she said.
Ali Bongo’s camp was meanwhile accused of trying to intimidate his opponents after the private television channel TV+, owned by Mba Obame, was taken off the air and its transmitter cut off.
Ahead of the elections, many candidates questioned the electoral roll, saying 813,164 eligible voters in a country of 1.5 million was way too high and suggested fraud.
Gabon is sub-Saharan Africa’s fourth biggest oil producer, the world’s third biggest provider of manganese – a metal with industrial metal alloy uses, particularly in stainless steels – and Africa’s second biggest wood exporter.
But an estimated 60 percent of the population of 1.5 million live below the poverty line.
Though candidates have decried the lack of development in the west African nation, several served in the government for years.
Ali Bongo, 50, has both defended the legacy of his father, who died at age 73 in June, and labelled detractors turncoats while also pledging change.