Gabon military officers claim power, say election lacked credibility

Television announcement comes shortly after state election body announces incumbent Ali Bongo had won a third term as president.

Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba casts his vote at a polling station during the presidential election in Libreville, Gabon August 26, 2023 [Gerauds Wilfried Obangome/Reuters]Published On 30 Aug 202330 Aug 2023

A group of senior military officers has gone on national television in Gabon saying they have seized power because elections held over the weekend were not credible.

The officers, appearing on Gabon24 in the early hours of Wednesday morning, said they had cancelled the elections, dissolved all state institutions and closed the country’s borders.

They said they represented all security and defence forces of Gabon.

The announcement came shortly after the state election body said President Ali Bongo Ondimba had won a third term in office in Saturday’s disputed elections.

“In the name of the Gabonese people … we have decided to defend the peace by putting an end to the current regime,” the officers said.

The Gabonese Election Centre said Bongo had secured 64.27 percent of the vote compared with 30.77 percent for his main challenger Albert Ondo Ossa, after a process beset by delays.

Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi, reporting from Kenya, said that “there are lots of uncertainties” surrounding the military action.

“There is a lot of tension as well. They [military leaders] are claiming that the government has not been respecting the will of the Gabonese people for so many years and they say that has to change,” said Soi.

On Saturday, the opposition camp said the election was a “fraud orchestrated by Ali Bongo and his supporters” after the internet was cut and a curfew imposed. French media outlets France 24, RFI and TV5 Monde were also banned, accused of “a lack of objectivity and balance … in connection with the current general elections”, the government said.

“We also know that the internet is still shut down. It was shut down over the weekend and curfew was imposed,” Soi said. “So, people are very afraid.”

“It is very hard for people in Gabon to access the information that they need to know what is happening,” she added.

Bongo was the candidate for the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG), the party founded by his father, Omar Bongo, who ruled Gabon with an iron fist from 1967 to 2009. After his death, his son, then the defence minister, took his place as president and has been in power ever since.

“We have no idea where President Bongo is. The military did not say where the president is. Things are moving very fast,” reported Soi.

Tensions had been running high amid Saturday’s vote with the opposition pushing for change and an end to the Bongo family’s dominance of Gabon.

Following the military announcement, the Reuters and AFP news agencies reported the sound of gunfire in the Gabonese capital, Libreville.

This is a developing story. More updates to follow.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies