Freedom in the World
Gabon’s civil liberties rating declined from 4 to 5 and its status from Partly Free to Not Free due to increased restrictions on the media in the period surrounding the presidential election as well as a crackdown on postelection protesters.
President Omar Bongo, the world’s longest-serving republican ruler, died in June 2009, and his son, Ali Bongo, was declared the winner of an August presidential election. Two other candidates contested the results, and postelection protests drew a violent police response, but the Constitution Court ultimately upheld Bongo’s victory in October. During the year, the authorities suspended media outlets that reported on sensitive issues like Omar Bongo’s health and the postelection unrest, and opposition figures were barred from leaving the country following the violence.
Gabon is not an electoral democracy. The 2009 presidential election was marred by irregularities, including allegations of vote rigging and intimidation of the press. Opposition candidates challenged the election results and petitioned the constitutional court, which called for a vote recount that supported Ali Bongo’s victory. The president is elected for seven-year terms, and a 2003 constitutional change removed the two-term limitimposed in 1991. The president has extensive powers, including the authority to appoint judges and dissolve the parliament. The bicameral legislature consists of a 102-seat Senate, expanded from 91 seats in 2008, and a 120-seat National Assembly. Regional and municipal officials elect senators for six-year terms, while National Assembly members are elected by popular vote for five-year terms.
Legal protections for women include equal-access laws for education, business, and investment, but these laws favor educated women in urban areas. Several women hold high-level positions in the new government, including the minister of defense and the minister of justice. Women have no property rights in widely practiced common-law marriages, and they continue to face societal discrimination, particularly in rural areas. Domestic violence is reportedly widespread. Children and young adults are susceptible to ritual killings, and 12 such killings were reported ahead of the 2008 local elections. At least 11 ritual crimes were confirmed in 2009. Rape is illegal but seldom prosecuted, and abortion is prohibited.