Violence Grips Gabon After Closest-Ever Presidential Vote

  • Police, army barricade streets after parliament set on fire
  • Unrest is ‘extremely unusual’ for oil producer, analyst says

Violence erupted in Gabon’s capital after electoral authorities said President Ali Bongo had narrowly won a second term in the closest-ever election in the nation’s history. Yields on Gabonese Eurobonds surged the most in almost seven months.

Police and army soldiers barricaded main streets in the capital, Libreville, as military helicopters flew overhead in the seaside city of about half a million people. Internet services were suspended throughout the country, while state-owned television withheld any information about the protests, including the torching of parliament late Wednesday.

Gabonese police force in Libreville on Sept. 1.
Gabonese police force in Libreville on Sept. 1.
Photographer: Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images

At least two people died and several were injured when Gabonese security forces stormed the headquarters of opposition presidential candidate Jean Ping in the capital early on Thursday, Agence France-Presse reported, citing the 73-year-old opposition leader.

Gabon’s presidency said in a statement Thursday that Ping had paid “thugs” to vandalize symbols of the state such as the parliament building and Libreville’s city hall. The presidency disputed claims that the security forces had stormed Ping’s headquarters, saying instead that they had come under attack from “explosive grenades” lobbed at them by his supporters.

Not Plausible

The violence is “extremely unusual for Gabon,” Francois Conradie, an analyst at NKC African Economics, said in an e-mailed note. At the same time, Bongo “has the power to hang on by brute force if he needs to.”

The yield on Gabon’s 2024 Eurobond surged 46 basis points to 8.04 percent by 2:25 p.m. in Libreville, the biggest gain since Feb 8. The yield rose for the sixth consecutive day, the longest streak since Jan. 18.

Bongo, 57, has ruled the oil-producing central African nation since 2009, when he succeeded his father Omar Bongo, who clung to office for 42 years. The country rejoined the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries this year amid a slump in crude revenue.

Protesters took to the streets after the electoral commission announced Bongo won the election with 49.8 percent of the vote against 48.2 percent for Ping, a victory due to the tally in Bongo’s home province, where voter turnout was 99.93 percent. The opposition immediately rejected the result, saying a turnout of more than 99 percent among 71,714 voters isn’t plausible.

“Results like Ali Bongo’s are the hallmarks of dictators and tyrants who refuse to give up power,” Ping said in an e-mailed statement. “We urge U.S. citizens, its leaders, and policymakers to send a clear message to Ali Bongo that he can win or lose an election – but he cannot steal an election.”

‘Underlying Tensions’

The protests are unlikely to truly destabilize the government because it has strong ties to the army, Cailin Birch, a political analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said in e-mailed comments. “The larger risk, however, is that the next Bongo administration will struggle to assert its credibility with the population, further stoking underlying social and political tensions.”

The U.S. urged the government to publish the results for each polling station, rather than the results per province, saying Gabon is at “a critical juncture,” according to a statement on the website of the U.S. State Department.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also expressed “deep concern” about the clashes between protesters and security forces. “The Secretary-General urges all concerned political leaders and their supporters to refrain from further acts that could undermine the peace and stability of the country,” he said in a statement.

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