December 17, 2011 / 10:24 AM / 7 years ago

Gabon votes in parliamentary poll, opposition boycotts

LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Opposition parties boycotted a parliamentary election in Gabon on Saturday that was expected to strengthen the hand of President Ali Bongo’s ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG).

Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba addresses the 66th United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York September 22, 2011. REUTERS/Chip East

The PDG currently holds a comfortable majority in the 120- seat assembly of the oil-rich Central African nation.

About 475 candidates are vying for the 120 seats, including 90 from Bongo’s ruling party and over 150 from other smaller parties of the coalition backing him.

But opposition parties and some civil society groups were staying away form the polls after the government rejected their request to introduce biometric voter cards and registers.

They said the introduction of biometric voter materials would ensure a fraud-free election.

“We believe that conditions for a transparent election, starting with the reliability of the electoral roll, are not fulfilled,” opposition leader Zacharie Myboto said on national television.

Though the dispute is not expected to turn violent the government has condemned what it called a “subversive and irresponsible attitude of the opposition and civil society,” and said it will take action against parties that prevent the proper conduct of the election.

“Despite the opposition’s call for a boycott, the campaign has been peaceful, and there is little evidence to suggest the post-electoral period will be characterised by any significant unrest,” said Samir Gadio, Standard Bank emerging markets analyst based in London.

Gadio said Gabon’s Eurobond, was unlikely to react to the legislative elections because the bond is much more sensitive to global risk than domestic political issues as seen by its rally after a disputed 2009 presidential poll.

“Clearly, the country’s robust balance sheet, consistent fiscal surpluses and accumulation of forex reserves of $2.5bn in August, from $1.7bn in Dec 2010, largely mitigate any default risk,” he said.

Gabon, which is seeking to diversify its economy to wean it off its dwindling oil exports, will jointly host the African Cup of Nations with Equatorial Guinea in January.

About half of Gabon’s 1.5 million inhabitants are expected to vote in what is the first legislative election since Bongo took over from his late father in 2009.

A comfortable majority in parliament will enable Bongo put in place his diversification programme called “Gabon Emergent”, or “Gabon Emerging”, which aims to see Gabon’s growth rise to 10 percent by the end of his current mandate in 2016 from 6 percent this year.

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