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Voting Slow in Gabon


Voting in Gabon's legislative elections is proceeding slowly, after huge delays to get centers open in many parts of the central African country. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from our regional bureau in Dakar.

Voting materials were missing and election personnel were absent at many polling stations, even though soldiers and police were present for security.

In the north, there were delays because of disputes over the appointment of electoral officers. Many Gabonese also first went to mass before attending to the election.

Some of the voters who showed up early said they hoped the election would be transparent and that newly elected lawmakers would push for improving basic infrastructure, such as running water, in poor areas.

More than 800 candidates are running for 120 seats, one year after President Omar Bongo Ondimba, in power since 1967, was re-elected.

Opposition parties, which boycotted the last legislative poll over fears of vote-rigging, took part.

Researcher Adrian Feniou from London-based Global Insight explains, the coalition of parties backing the ruling Gabon Democratic Party, known by its French acronym PDG, splintered, and that led to more candidates competing.

"The very large number of candidates, there are 860 candidates for 120 seats, that is mainly a result of the ruling PDG's inability to compromise with the other 40 parties, which constitute its ruling coalition," he said. "That has really dispersed the candidates and probably the results."

The election for one Libreville seat has the prime minister competing against the vice prime minister.

Feniou says, if anything, the election may give clues as to post-Bongo politics in Gabon, whenever that moment arrives.

"Tensions are brewing under, below Bongo, who has been in power for 40 years and is, at some point, going to disappear," noted Feniou. "At least, that is what the opposition hopes, and that is even what people within his camp hope, as well. So what we really are seeing is the fight in the lower ranks to determine who is up next."

As oil profits diminish, while the economic gap between a small elite and general population widens, President Bongo called for a majority in the election to implement a development project he calls Acts for Gabon.

President Bongo says he has no heir apparent, and that he intends to seek another seven-year term in the next presidential election in 2012.

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