OpEd: The outlook for the legislative election in Gabon

Gabon is about to finally hold its legislative election, a poll that was originally scheduled for December 2016.

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By Francois Conradie – Head of Research at NKC African Economics

Gabon is about to finally hold its legislative election, a poll that was originally scheduled for December 2016, but which has been delayed repeatedly owing to President Ali Bongo’s efforts to defuse political tensions that followed his dodgy win in that year’s presidential poll.

The first round is to take place on October 6 (the same day as local authority elections) and the second round on October 27. Mr Bongo’s Gabonese Dlegislative electionemocratic Party (PDG) is the very strong favourite to retain its majority (in the outgoing Parliament, 113 out of 120 deputies), but we expect its majority will shrink.

In 2011, the year of the last legislative election, the opposition called for a boycott so the PDG won the lion’s share of seats, and parties allied to it won another five seats, leaving only two for the opposition. This time, however, a significant part of the opposition will participate.

Although Jean Ping, the probable real winner of the 2016 presidential election, is still keeping out of the fray and calling for a boycott, many senior politicians who were in his camp two years ago are going to contest the election.

The two important opposition parties that are contesting are the National Union (UN) of Zacharie Myboto (which is the party of Mr Bongo’s late political rival, André Mba Obame) and the Heritage and Modernity Rally (RHM) of Alexandre Barro-Chambrier.

Mr Myboto was general secretary of the PDG under Mr Bongo’s father Omar, while Mr Barro-Chambrier has held several ministerial positions and is a member of the outgoing Parliament.

The UN and RHM arrived at a national-level agreement not to compete with each other, but this deal has broken down in about 20 constituencies, where they will put up competing candidates.

Guy Nzouba-Ndama, also a former PDG heavyweight and National Assembly Speaker, is leading a party called The Democrats, and has committed not to compete against opposition candidates in the second round.

The elections are taking place in an environment of heated public opposition to austerity policies Mr Bongo is introducing, on advice from the IMF, to deal with stressed public finances.

Strikes and marches are more common than usual, and there are reports of civil servants not receiving their salaries.

We expect the PDG to easily retain its majority, but for more opposition candidates, including some of the bigger names, to win seats.

We also expect Mr Bongo to include a few opposition bigwigs in the government he will name after the vote. This will increase the political capital he has to push through reforms, so we will then expect further welcome action to cut government spending, but opposition to these measures from trade unions will not diminish, and we expect to keep reading about public-sector strikes.

The threat of strike action is lower in the private sector, including at Total Gabon, where some recent unhappiness among workers seems to have been quelled.