By Gerauds Wilfried Obangome
The Gabon government on Tuesday accused President Ali Bongo's challenger, Jean Ping, of trying to destabilise the country, and warned French ruling party officials against "interference" in its affairs.
With both sides trading accusations after a bitter election campaign, there was concern the results, when they came, would trigger unrest. People stockpiled food, police manned major crossroads and soldiers deployed at petrol stations and banks.
Ping, a former foreign minister, African Union Commission chairman and longtime political insider, is the main challenger to Bongo, whose family has ruled the oil-producing central African nation for half a century.
In a statement late on Tuesday, he said that election results his team had collated from almost all of the country's regions showed he had defeated Bongo. [nL8N1BB5SD]
"Jean Ping's victory is no longer in doubt," the statement signed by him said, adding he had received 59.32 percent support in the eight out of the nine provinces for which they had data, with Bongo getting just 37.97 percent.
Government spokesman Alain-Claude Nze told a news conference earlier in the day that "Jean Ping seems to be the instigator of a destabilisation that threatens the democratic process."
Bongo's supporters say he is on track to win. The president was first elected in 2009 after the death of his father, Omar Bongo, who ran Gabon for 42 years. [L8N1BA2H0]
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern about the issuance of premature results and called on Ping and Bongo to urge their supporters to show restraint.
Bongo's allies are also furious about a statement from France's ruling Socialist Party on Sunday declaring that early results showed Ping to be the winner.
They accused French officials of carrying on the old politics of 'La Francafrique' - an intricate, shadowy web of diplomacy and commerce that for decades kept African presidents in its former colonies, like Bongo's father, in power in exchange for privileged deals for French companies.
"The Socialist Party by this interference, coming from the same members of La Francafrique, shows once again their inability to understand how African democracies function," Nze said. "The French Socialist Party is advised to respect our sovereignty."
FEARS OF UNREST
Authorities have also reacted angrily to an app set up by an Ivorian citizen that allegedly gives live results by region.
Interior Minister Pacome Moubelet-Boubeya said he would announce results starting on Tuesday evening after a meeting of the electoral commission and warned that any attempts at destabilisation by publishing results would not be tolerated.
"Any other so-called results released before, during or after the official declaration are nothing but a lie and a violation of the law," Moubelet-Boubeya said in a statement.
"Anti-democratic forces both inside and outside the country are looking for ways to provoke trouble in Gabon."
The French Embassy advised its citizens to stay indoors.
Gabon's first-past-the-post system means the winner only needs more votes than any other candidate. In 2009, Bongo won with 41.73 percent.
The European Union's observer mission on Monday criticised a "lack of transparency" among the institutions running the polls and said Bongo had benefited from preferential access to money and the media. Nze accused the EU of overstepping its mandate.
Ping's supporters called on the electoral commission to publish the results polling station by polling station. But electoral commission head René Aboghe Ella rejected that, telling Radio France International "to do so would excessively delay the publication of the results".
Bongo, 57, also benefits from being the incumbent in a country with a patronage system lubricated by oil largesse.
But oil output and prices have fallen, forcing budget cuts despite Gabon having one of the biggest revenue streams of all Africa's oil producers.
Gabon's economic troubles have provided fodder for opposition charges that its 1.8 million inhabitants have struggled under his leadership, and Bongo's ruling party has experienced a series of high-profile defections.
(Additional reporting by Tim Cocks and Diadie Ba in Dakar; Writing by Joe Bavier and Tim Cocks; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Peter Cooney)