UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
ABIDJAN, 4 Dec (IRIN) - Eight candidates will contest the first round of Gabon's presidential elections on 6 December against the backdrop of a tense political climate and economic decline. The elections, the second since a 1990 national conference established multi-party politics in Gabon, are being held in a climate of mutual suspicion and hostility. The second round is slated for 30 December.
The incumbent, Omar Bongo, has warned opposition leaders who have threatened to disrupt law and order that he will deal with them ruthlessly should they take any action, media agencies reported. He has ordered the country's borders to be closed charging that the losers of the elections would mount an armed "urban guerrilla" movement from across Gabon's frontiers. Pierre Mamboundou, the leader of the Haut conseil de la resistance (HCR) has run into criticism from his own party. At a press conference in November, officials of the party echoed government claims that opposition leaders had given instructions to buy small arms and singled out Mamboundou who called the allegations a "pack of lies". The opposition leaders in turn have accused the ruling party, the Parti democratique gabonais (PDG), of preparing to rig the elections.
The largest opposition party, the Rassemblement national des bucherons (RNB), split three ways in July, effectively neutralising the greatest threat to Bongo in the polls. The RNB leader, Paul Mba Abessole, expelled his deputy and arch-rival, Pierre Andre Kombila, who then declared himself party leader. Abessole is the country's most well-known opposition politician but the break with Kombila has undermined his chances of electoral success, analysts said.
Kombila has built a reputation as an honest man, while Abessole, who is also the mayor of Libreville, is increasingly perceived as "autocratic and in Bongo's pocket", according to an Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) report. The third RNB faction is led by Alain Engouang Nze. The RNB came second in the last presidential elections.
Many of the other opposition parties and candidates which challenged Bongo in the 1993 elections are still active but politically weak after failing to broaden their support out of narrow regional bases. The EIU said the decline of smaller parties had been subtly but steadily engineered by Bongo. The HCR, which successfully unified the main opposition parties into an alliance under Abessole immediately after the 1993 elections, now consists only of Mamboundou's faction. But Mamboundou has gained credibility with a segment of the population by criticising Bongo's government for its "improper practices", according to the weekly magazine 'Jeune Afrique'.
A resource-rich country, Gabon has been hit by the plunge in oil revenues caused by falling international oil prices and a slump in timber sales brought about by the economic crisis in Asia. It also has a total debt of US $3.5 billion and the combination of these factors has forced the government to slash the 1998 budget by 15 percent, AFP reported.
During the 1993 elections, there was civil unrest in which a number of people were killed during protests against what they said were rigged polls. Bongo was announced to have won 51 percent of the vote after the first round. After a 10-month political crisis punctuated by violent incidents, an agreement was signed in Paris in September 1994 between the government and the opposition, paving the way for a referendum on the reform of the electoral code and the establishment of the Senate.
Omar Bongo, the leader of the Parti democratique gabonais (PDG), 63, has been in power since 1967. Along with Togolese president Gnassingbe Eyadema, Bongo is the longest serving president in sub-Saharan Africa.
Paul Mba Abessole, 59, the leader of the Rassemblement national des bucherons (RNB), mayor of Libreville and long-time opposition leader, is a catholic priest. His party came second in the 1993 elections. Media sources have reported since that he has lost much of his credibility.
Pierre Andre Kombila, 57, the leader of one faction of the RNB, was Abessole's right-hand man before he fell out with him and split the party. Kombila accused Abessole of compromising his integrity with the government to become mayor of Libreville, the weekly 'Jeune Afrique' has reported. A heart specialist, he has said he wants to establish a party of true democracy and combat poverty.
Pierre Mamboundou, 52, the leader of the Haut Conseil de la Resistance (HCR), is a former international civil servant. In 1993, he returned to Gabon after three years in exile, but was excluded from participating in the poll.
Pierre-Claver Maganga Moussavou, 45, the leader of Parti social-democrate (PSD) is an economist and former minister who came third in the 1993 elections. According to 'Jeune Afrique', Moussavou is perceived to be a potential threat since he has money and connections in the country and abroad.
Alain Engouang Nze, 40, leads the Confederation nationale des associations bucheronnes (CONAB), the smallest RNB faction.
Martin Edzozomo Ela, who is in his 60's, is a self-declared candidate representing the poor.
Joseph-Adrien Mabicke, 51, is an independent candidate.
Date: Fri, 4 Dec 1998 15:32:27 +0000 (GMT) From: UN IRIN - West Africa <email@example.com> Subject: GABON: Background brief on presidential elections 1998.12.4