Freedom in the World
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Although Gabon holds regular elections, President Ali Bongo Ondimba maintains political dominance through a pervasive patronage system and restrictions on dissent, having succeeded his father when he died after more than 40 years in power in 2009. The media carry some criticism of the government, but self-censorship is common, especially regarding the president. The executive branch effectively controls the judiciary, and prisoners suffer from harsh conditions and severe overcrowding. Other significant problems include discrimination against and exploitation of African immigrants and migrant workers, marginalization of indigenous peoples, and legal and de facto inequality for women.
- In August, election officials declared that Bongo had won a second seven-year term as president, defeating challenger Jean Ping, who was supported by a coalition of opposition parties and prominent figures who had left the ruling party.
- Violent protests erupted after the results were announced, the parliament building was set on fire, and security forces launched a crackdown to suppress dissent and deter assemblies.
- Amid the protests, the government blocked access to the internet and social media applications for several days, then maintained partial restrictions through late September.
Gabon’s August 2016 presidential election pitted incumbent president Bongo against Jean Ping of the opposition Union of Forces for Change. Ping, a diplomat who had long served as foreign minister under Bongo’s late father, won the support of a number of opposition factions and benefited from major defections among the old guard of the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG), including Guy Nzouba-Ndama, who resigned as head of the National Assembly in March.
A few days after the voting, the national electoral commission declared Bongo the winner with 49.8 percent of the vote, compared with Ping’s 48.2 percent. In the province of Haut-Ogooué, a Bongo family stronghold, turnout was reported at a dubious 99.9 percent, with 95 percent backing the incumbent, even though turnout in the rest of the country was just 54 percent. Both Ping and observers from the European Union called for a recount, and the results were sent to the Constitutional Court for review.
Meanwhile, violent protests erupted, the parliament building was set on fire, and security forces stormed Ping’s headquarters. Estimates of the death toll from the unrest ranged from fewer than 10 to more than 50, and hundreds of others were arrested, though most were later released or freed pending trial. The government also shut down access to the internet on the night the results were announced, and it remained inaccessible for five days, after which it was restored for 12 hours a day and social media sites remained blocked. Full access was not restored until the end of September.
The Constitutional Court, which had rebuffed an observation mission from the African Union during its deliberations, confirmed and strengthened Bongo’s victory, altering the result slightly to 50.66 percent for Bongo and 47.24 percent for Ping. The head of the court, Marie-Madeleine Mborantsuo, was reportedly the longtime mistress of Bongo’s father. Bongo was later sworn in for his new term amid a heavy military presence in the capital.
This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in Gabon, see Freedom in the World 2016.