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Apathy, Allegations of Fraud Mar Gabon Vote


Apathy and irregularities have marred voting day in Gabon, where Africa's longest serving leader, Omar Bongo, is expected to claim another seven-year term.

At many polling centers in the capital, Libreville, security forces outnumbered voters throughout the day.

An independent journalist who toured several voting centers, Desire Ename, says Gabonese did not heed Mr. Bongo's persistent campaign calls to go out and vote.

"We can say that everything is not working as they were expecting," he said. "There is nobody. Nobody is really voting. It comes from the fact that people are really bored of a system. And they don't believe in voting anymore."

He says some of the few who did want to vote were prevented from doing so, because their names were not on voter lists, even though they had voter registration cards.

"So many people are going and trying to vote, but they don't find their names, that's a problem," said Mr. Ename. "The former lists they publish in 1993, that's the lists we find in some voting centers. That's a major problem too, and some people told us that they found the name of their parents who died so many years ago."

A computer technician, Marc, says he was dismayed to see police and soldiers voting again, even though they had already voted on Friday, to clear them for security duties.

He said their names were not ticked off voter rolls when they voted, and that there was no separate list for them.

The young man also fears there could be trouble ahead, as there was briefly Friday, when ballot boxes with votes from security personnel were taken away from voting centers, rather than being left there to be counted with other votes. That sparked confrontations between opposition militants and the military.

Marches were banned in the last week of campaigning, after students at the Omar Bongo Technical School and the Omar Bongo University began planning opposition protests. During the run-up to the vote, opposition candidates complained of many disadvantages, including Gabonese printers refusing to make posters for them and posters printed abroad disappearing at the airport.

The two main challengers are Zacharie Myboto, a former insider, whose daughter was once one of the many mistresses of Mr. Bongo, and outsider Pierre Mamboundou, whose militants wear red.

It is a one-round, winner take-all vote.

Mr. Bongo, who has been in power since 1967, making him the second longest serving leader in the world after Cuba's Fidel Castro, has said only he can guarantee continued stability. While voting at a school near his presidential palace, he said he was confident, and that everything was going fine.

The oil and timber-rich, lightly populated Central African nation has been beset with decaying infrastructure and large-scale corruption in recent years, but has avoided civil strife that many neighboring countries have known.