August 31, 2009 / 11:44 AM / 9 years ago

Bongo son says well ahead in Gabon poll

LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Ali Ben Bongo, son of Gabon’s long-time ruler Omar Bongo, declared himself on Monday well ahead in an election to succeed his father as president of the oil-producing central African nation.

Former defense minister Ben Bongo had long been tipped as front-runner in Sunday’s poll, but faced a last-minute challenge as several candidates dropped out to rally behind a rival.

“Information received from various constituencies across Gabon and abroad make me easily the winner,” Ben Bongo told a news conference at the headquarters of his ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG).

Ben Bongo did not say how much of the vote he believed he had taken but added he expected confirmation of the result from authorities later, without specifying how long it would take.

He brushed off declarations of victory from two rival candidates, former interior minister Andre Mba Obame and Pierre Mamboundou, one of the few candidates with no history of ties to the Bongo family, noting simply: “That is to be expected.”

A strong security presence and heavy rains overnight meant there were few Gabonese on the streets of the capital Libreville as counting took place.

Authorities have sealed land and sea borders and called for calm after several candidates accused Ben Bongo of rigging the poll to disguise a dynastic transfer of power from father to son as seen elsewhere on the continent.

Earlier a senior official in Mamboundou’s camp said he was confident of victory.

“We are ahead by a long way,” Emmanuel Koumba told Reuters. He said Mamboundou led in eight of nine provinces in the country but did not elaborate or give a source for his information.

Bongo’s death in June, aged 73, ended nearly 42 years of rule that brought stability to the country of 1.5 million people, but also allegations he lavished petrodollars on family and friends rather than using them to alleviate poverty.

Investors were expecting a Ben Bongo win but did not fear a reversal in Gabon’s pro-investor policies from any of the main candidates.

Analysts say any successor will have to cope with dwindling oil reserves that will mean the loss of some revenue in the sector, which accounts for half of national output.

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