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Voters in Gabon Head to Polls After Tense Presidential Campaign


A Gabonese voter checks the registry at a polling station in the Rio district during the presidential election on Aug. 27, 2016, in Libreville.

A Gabonese voter checks the registry at a polling station in the Rio district during the presidential election on Aug. 27, 2016, in Libreville.

In Gabon, more than half a million voters are expected to go to the polls today (Saturday) 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.

A tense election campaign, which ended on Friday, preceded the poll. It was marked by weeks of controversies with the opposition questioning incumbent president Ali Bongo’s citizenship and legitimacy to run, with a protest being violently dispersed in the capital Libreville last month.

Bongo is seeking a second seven-year term in office. He took power in 2009, after the death of his father.

Bongo focused his campaign on the achievements of his first term, such as the construction of hundreds of kilometers of roads.

But the economy of the country, which relies heavily on oil production and export, has been deeply affected by falling oil prices and social discontent has grown.

Ping as main rival

His main rival is Jean Ping, a former ally of Bongo’s father and several times minister, who had a falling-out with the current president a couple years ago.

Speaking to VOA earlier this week, Ping said that Ali Bongo is completely incompetent and that voters can’t accept to continue being ruled by the son just because they supported his father.

Ping said he was sure to win now that the opposition has created a coalition around him.

Some fear the poll might be marred by post-election violence like in 2009. The opposition claims the ruling party may also try to rig the vote.

But Rene Aboughe Ella, the president of the electoral commission, says these concerns are overblown.

Speaking to VOA's Idrissa Fall earlier in the week, Ella said the commission has no reason to believe that there will be trouble, despite the tensions.

Voting ends at 6 p.m. local time. About 628,000 voters are expected to cast their ballots. Ella said the first results won’t be known for at least 48 hours.

Idriss Fall contributed to this report from Libreville.

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