August 30, 2009 / 12:00 PM / in 9 years

PENPIX-Main candidates in Gabon's presidential vote

Aug 30 (Reuters) - Oil-producing Gabon, for years one of the most stable states on Africa’s volatile west coast, voted on Sunday to replace the late president Omar Bongo, who had been in power for more than 40 years.

Here are details of the main candidates:

ALI BEN BONGO

Eldest son of the late president. Ben Bongo, 50, is the candidate of the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG). His campaign has targeted young voters, who make up the majority of the population. Election pledges include better education, vocational training, healthcare and access to new homes. On the campaign trail he talked about turning Gabon — whose oil reserves are gradually dwindling — into a country of entrepreneurs. Educated in France, Ben Bongo joined the government in 1989 as foreign minister, and was named defence minister in 1999, a position he was forced to relinquish this month after rivals said it gave him an unfair electoral advantage. Widely tipped to win, he ran by far the best organised and most costly campaign, featuring hundreds of billboards and banners, as well as digital displays in the capital Libreville. He is a member of the minority Teke ethnic group.

ANDRE MBA OBAME

Obame was interior minister until July, and an PDG executive member for 23 years. He quit the ruling party when Ben Bongo was selected as candidate to challenge as an independent on a platform of “Action, Modernity, Openness” (AMO), using the initial letters of his name. His past ties with Ben Bongo have led to speculation that his candidacy is merely a tactic to split the opposition vote. However so far he has run a campaign that is critical of the PDG, even accusing them of manipulating previous elections. He has referred to a huge anti-government demonstration in 1990 which came close to toppling Omar Bongo as an example of what the people of Gabon are capable of doing if their patience runs out. He owns his own free-to-air TV station, TV+, which has been broadcasting his campaign. He is a member of the Fang ethnic group.

PIERRE MAMBOUNDOU

Mamboundou is one of few credible candidates with no real history of ties to the Bongo leadership. In opposition since 1989, Mamboundou was exiled to Senegal after Bongo accused him of plotting to overthrow his government. Despite being tried and convicted in absentia of attempting to organise a coup d’etat, Mamboundou was able to return to Gabon and finally ran for president in 1998. He lost again in 2005 and subsequently escaped arrest on suspicion of orchestrating anti-government demonstrations, seeking refuge in the South African embassy in Libreville. Mamboundou only emerged after South African mediation and a meeting with Bongo, after which he softened his tone. No members of his Union of Gabonese People (UPG) have been part of government. He is campaigning for a reduction in the number of members of government, to abolish the upper house of parliament, raise the minimum wage, and introduce health insurance.

ZACHARIE MYBOTO

A member of the ruling party for over 20 years, Myboto quit the PDG to create in 2005 the Gabonese Union for Democracy and Development (UGDD), one of two main opposition parties. Though born in Haut-Ogooue, the same province as Ben Bongo, Myboto belongs to the larger Nzebi ethnic group. He calls for a monthly payment of 50,000 CFA francs ($109) for the poorest families he says were neglected under Omar Bongo. Myboto is also campaigning for better governance. He says a reduction in the size of the cabinet to 27 members from the current 50 would save 2,000 billion CFA francs ($4.4 billion) over seven years.

CASIMIR OYE MBA

A former governor of the Bank of Central African States (BEAC), and a well-regarded prime minister in the early 1990s, he has held many positions in government. His campaign leans heavily on his experience in government, especially in dealing with economic problems. He ran against Ben Bongo for the official candidacy of the PDG, and resigned in protest when Ben Bongo was chosen, claiming the process was not democratic. Like Mba Obame, he is running as an independent. Also a member of the Fang ethnic group, he calls himself “the consensus candidate”. He wants to build 100 km (60 miles) of road a year, reduce the size of government, reform the constitution, and impose a 2-term limit on the time presidents may serve in office. (For main story please click on [ID:nLU415962]) (Compiled by Linel Kwatsi and Daniel Magnowski in Libreville; Editing by Mark John) ($1=457.5 Cfa Franc)

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