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Gabon's Ruling Party Wins Big Majority, But Opposition Emerges

Gabon's ruling party has won a big majority in a newly elected parliament, but opposition parties are making a more noticeable appearance. Voter apathy however was high in last week's election. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from our regional bureau in Dakar.

Final results from most races in last Sunday's election give the party of long-time President Omar Bongo Ondimba 80 seats.

But independents and small parties close to the Gabonese Democratic Party push the ruling coalition's total close to 100 seats in the 120 member parliament.

Three parties each won a handful of races, including the Union of the Gabonese People, which boycotted the previous legislative poll in 2001. Its leader, a failed but feisty presidential candidate, Pierre Mamboundou, won a seat in his southwestern stronghold of Ndende.

Several seats are still up for grabs as organizational problems led to the postponement of the vote in a few constituencies. Voting should be completed this coming Sunday.

While announcing the results Thursday night, authorities did not give a clear indication of voter turnout. According to journalists making their own tallies, it was below 30 percent in most cities.

An analyst with London-based Control Risks research group, Chris Melville, predicted both general disinterest for this election in Gabon and a sweeping victory for the ruling party, known by its French acronym PDG.

"Politics and elections tend not to be determined by ideological beliefs or particular developmental issues or questions of national strategy. They tend primarily to be opportunities for the redistribution of resources, money and development," said Melville. "So I guess, at the root, you could say that is the major issue and the ability of any particular party to deliver resources at their local level. Frankly, the PDG is the only party that has the experience and capability and financial resources to be able to make that sort of offer."

President Bongo said the election was important to ensure he can push through development goals as he enters his fourth decade in power. Oil profits have been dwindling, while economic gaps between a small elite and growing underclass have been widening.

Melville says President Bongo also wanted peaceful elections following 2005 presidential elections marred by street violence and accusations of fraud.

"The main issue in these elections from Omar Bongo's point of view was the attempt to rebuild the credibility of the democratic process in Gabon," added Melville. "After the presidential election in 2005, there was unusual amount of international scrutiny after some allegations of fraud from various candidates."

In this election, the vice-prime minister, who ran for an opposition party and lost against the ruling party's prime minister for a seat in Libreville, complained of irregularities.

But the interior minister said it was the first time since the start of multi-party politics in 1990 that there were no calls for an opposition boycott or general denouncing of the results.

Mr. Bongo has recently said he plans to run for a new seven-year presidential term in 2012.