LIBREVILLE: Gabon’s leader Ali Bongo Ondimba, who is favorite for a third term, will face 18 other candidates in next month’s presidential election, authorities announced on Monday.
Bongo’s family has ruled the West African state for 55 years.
The 64-year-old, who took over from his father Omar Bongo Ondimba in 2009, officially announced in July that he would run again for president.
His leading rivals for the top job include Alexandre Barro Chambrier of the opposition Rally for the Fatherland and Modernity or RPM party and the National Union’s head Paulette Missambo.
The opposition failed to agree on a single candidate to challenge Bongo in the Aug. 26 poll, but both candidates are former ministers and part of the Alternance 2023 coalition.
In April, the Gabonese parliament voted to amend the constitution and reduce the president’s term from seven to five years.
Sections of the opposition criticized the changes, in particular the end of two rounds of voting, as a means of “facilitating the reelection” of Bongo.
With less than five weeks to go to the elections, Alternance 2023 has denounced modifications to the electoral code.
These notably include a move to allow a maximum of only three observers at each polling station — one for the ruling majority, one for the opposition and one for all independent candidates.
Previously every candidate could appoint an observer for every polling station.
“The claim of parity between the majority and the opposition is a trick. It favors supposed opposition parties without any candidates or very few,” Francois Ndong Obiang, head of the Reagir party, told a meeting of Alternance member parties on Friday.
Prime Minister Alain-Claude Bilie-By-Nze had last week urged the opposition not to “throw oil on the fire.”
“In order to hold a calm election, those involved must be careful not to throw oil on the fire,” he posted on Twitter.
Bongo’s powerful Gabonese Democratic Party or PDG holds strong majorities in both houses of parliament.
The president was narrowly re-elected in 2016, with just 5,500 more votes than rival Jean Ping who claimed the election had been fixed.
The announcement of the results sparked violence in the capital Libreville that left five dead, according to the government. The opposition says 30 people were shot dead by the security forces.