December 30, 2010 / 5:29 AM / 9 years ago

Gabon opposition warns on constitutional change

Gabon's President Ali Ben Bongo speaks to the media in the courtyard at the Elysee Palace in Paris November 20, 2009 following a meeting with France's President Nicolas Sarkozy. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Gabon’s parliament adopted a constitutional amendment allowing the president to extend his mandate in the case of an emergency, against opposition party warnings it could “open the door to dictatorship”.

Gabon President Ali Bongo took power in the Central African oil producing nation after an election last year that triggered several days of riots, replacing his father Omar who ruled for four decades until his death.

Some opposition members, who hold a minority of seats in parliament after June legislative elections, warned the constitutional amendment could allow Bongo to follow in his father’s footsteps with open-ended rule.

“This leaves the door open to dictatorship,” opposition leader Zacharie Myboto said on Tuesday after parliament’s 177-to-16 vote in favour of the amendment.

The amendment would allow Gabon’s president to extend his mandate “in the case of and act of God, a natural disaster, a declaration of war”, or other event requiring a delay to regularly scheduled elections.

The president would then choose a “suitable moment” for organizing the new date for the poll.

The former French colony is among Africa’s most wealthy countries due to its roughly 240,000 barrels per day of crude oil exports.

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