Gabon on edge as pres­i­den­tial ri­vals set to face off in court

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Worldwide -

LIBREVILLE — Se­cu­rity forces fanned out in Gabon’s cap­i­tal on Thurs­day as the west African coun­try re­mained on edge await­ing the con­sti­tu­tional court’s de­ci­sion to end its post-elec­tion cri­sis and the un­cer­tainty over who will be the next pres­i­dent.

Lawyers for in­cum­bent Pres­i­dent Ali Bongo and his ri­val Jean Ping were to ap­pear at the court’s first hear­ing in Libreville on Thurs­day on the highly-dis­puted poll.

It is down to the wire as the ex­piry of a 15-day dead­line for the Con­sti­tu­tional Court to re­solve elec­toral dis­putes was Fri­day, and the court was ex­pected to an­nounce its rul­ing yes­ter­day or to­day.

The small na­tion of 1.8 mil­lion peo­ple has been trau­ma­tised by the vi­o­lent protests that erupted af­ter Bongo was de­clared the win­ner of the Au­gust 27 elec­tion by a wafer-thin mar­gin of less than 6 000 votes.

The op­po­si­tion charged that the vote was fraud­u­lent and on Septem­ber 8, Ping, an in­ter­na­tion­ally-re­spected diplo­mat who him­self claimed vic­tory, filed a le­gal chal­lenge, de­mand­ing a re­count.

“The [elec­tion] ob­servers will present their re­port. Then the lawyers from both sides will speak for around 10 min­utes,” Ping’s lawyer Jean Remy Bantsantsa said. Bongo’s lawyer Fran­cis Nkea was not im­me­di­ately avail­able for com­ment.

In his le­gal chal­lenge, Ping asked for a re­count in Haut-Ogooue prov­ince, a strong­hold of the Bongo fam­ily who have ruled Gabon since 1967. Ali Bongo won more than 95 per­cent of votes there on a re­ported turnout of more than 99 per­cent.

Fol­low­ing the poll, EU elec­tion ob­servers said there had been a “clear anom­aly” in the fi­nal re­sults from Haut-Ogooue.

With sus­pense hang­ing over the court’s de­lib­er­a­tions, se­cu­rity forces in anti-riot gear were de­ployed around the cap­i­tal Libreville on Thurs­day pre­par­ing to head off any more un­rest should the judges de­cide against Ping.

Gabonese min­is­ters, who have vowed to main­tain or­der, warned the 73-year-old former head of the African Union Com­mis­sion that his ac­tions could be held re­spon­si­ble if new vi­o­lent protests break out.

Ping’s sup­port­ers say “more than 50” peo­ple were killed in the wave of post-elec­toral vi­o­lence, but the in­te­rior min­istry says the toll is three dead.

In the shops, the Gabonese stood in long queues to buy pro­vi­sions to last through the week­end should the streets be manned with check­points.

On Tues­day, lawyers for the two sides said they had agreed to a re­count al­though they dis­agreed over the scope of it.

Ping has made clear he be­lieves Bongo has the court in his pocket, re­fer­ring to it as “the Tower of Pisa that al­ways leans the same way”.

On Thurs­day Ping’s en­tourage ac­cused the court and its pres­i­dent Marie-Madeleine Mb­o­rantsuo of al­ready be­ing guilty of a “mis­car­riage of jus­tice”, cit­ing an in­ter­view with a weekly.

“I have to say that it is rare that the choice of re­ver­sal (of the vote re­sults) is used,” she told the weekly Je­une Afrique on Septem­ber 15 — a state­ment that in­fu­ri­ated the pro-Ping sup­port­ers.

Mb­o­rantsuo, a former beauty queen from HautO­gooue, caught the at­ten­tion of the late leader Omar Bongo and was named to the coun­try’s top court when she was only 28. She had an af­fair with him and bore him two chil­dren.

Ac­cord­ing to the op­po­si­tion and the Gabonese me­dia, she has amassed a for­mi­da­ble real es­tate port­fo­lio at home and abroad.

“No­body want to be in Mb­o­rantsuo’s shoes,” said a diplo­matic source. “She is un­der enor­mous pres­sure from both camps.” — AFP

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