August 31, 2009 / 12:18 AM / 10 years ago

Gabon awaits poll outcome, Bongo's son confident

LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Gabon’s voters waited on Monday for the first results of an election for a successor to long-time leader Omar Bongo, with the late president’s son tipped for power in the central African oil-producing state.

A poster of Ali Ben Bongo, the ruling party candidate and son of the former president, is displayed in Libreville, in this August 23, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Daniel Magnowski/Files

Ali Ben Bongo, defense minister in his father’s government, has said he believes he will win, but state television’s election coverage suggested former Interior Minister Andre Mba Obame was doing well in some constituencies.

Heavy rain and a strong security presence meant the streets of the capital Libreville were largely empty during vote counting. Authorities nonetheless repeated calls for calm after rivals of Ben Bongo accused him of trying to use the vote to cover up a dynasty-style transfer of power.

“We began this calmly, so let’s end this calmly,” interim President Rose Francine Rogombe said, calling on losing candidates to accept the outcome and not to send their supporters into the streets.

No overall projection emerged on Sunday and indications given by state television were based on partial counts from a small number of constituencies. Preliminary official results were expected on Monday or Tuesday.

Investors are banking on a Ben Bongo win but do not expect a reversal in Gabon’s pro-investor policies from any of the main candidates. Obame, a stalwart of the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) who quit last month, received a boost on Friday when five candidates dropped out to back his campaign.

“There is a mounting groundswell of opposition against frontrunner Ali Ben, which he will have to contend with if he does eventually come to power,” IHS Global Insight analyst Kissy Agyeman-Togobo said.

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

POLLING BRISKER

Bongo’s death aged 73 in June ended nearly 42 years of tight 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.

Witnesses said polling was brisker than in the last election in 2005, with some voters waiting outside polling stations well before dawn, only to experience hours of delay before voting.

“We arrived here and the voting urns weren’t in place. We had to put together the polling booth ourselves,” said Danniel Adamdi, a Libreville resident in his late 20s.

One candidate, ex-Prime Minister Casimir Oye Mba, pulled out late on Friday, saying the election would not be fair. However, the head of the international observer mission said procedures looked generally acceptable despite the long delays.

“Broadly speaking it started very well,” Daniel-Franck Idiata, president of the committee overseeing the observer mission, told reporters.

The former French colony has exported oil since the 1960s and is one of the few sub-Saharan countries to launch a Eurobond. It also has substantial manganese and timber industries.

About one-third of Gabonese live in poverty and the end of Bongo’s rule was overshadowed by investigations into his personal fortune by a judge in France.

Additional reporting by Media Coulibaly; Writing by Mark John; editing by Andrew Dobbie

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