Casting of ballots have commenced in the oil-rich central African nation of Gabon for the presidential, legislative, and local elections.
President Ali Bongo – who came to power in 2009 – is hoping to win a third term in office.
Oppositions believe he has done too little to rightly channel Gabon’s oil wealth to the third of the country’s 2.3 million poor, and they question his capacity to lead due to his weak state of health following a stroke in 2018.
On a wide-ranging campaign road, Bongo, 64, has worked to dispel this image. He has promised to increase job creation, expand micro-loan programs, and lower public school tuition.
The campaign went smoothly, but many fear that the post-election period may be marred by unrest similar to that seen after Bongo’s 2016 victory. The opposition has challenged previous election victories, alleging fraud.
His major opponent is joint opposition candidate Albert Ondo Ossa, a 69-year-old economics and management professor who has campaigned on the need for reform and greater economic possibilities.
Meanwhile the US and the European Union have called for a free and fair electoral process, and say they are watching the process closely.
Foreign media have been banned from entering the country to cover Saturday’s vote, says the campaign group Reporters Without Borders.
Vote counting will begin once the polls close at 1700 GMT.