Gabon’s government barred internet access and enforced a curfew, following an election marred by serious delays in what the opposition hoped would end President Ali Bongo’s family’s 56-year hold on power.
For the first time, the Central African country held presidential, legislative, and local elections at the same time, raising concerns that changes to the electoral system might cast doubt on the legitimacy of the results and spark violence.
The incumbent leader, who succeeded his father Omar in 2009, is running for a third term against 18 rivals, six of whom sponsored a combined nominee to narrow the field. The Bongo team denied any claims of fraud.
Voting was scheduled to begin at 0700 GMT, but at least five polling sites in the capital saw voters wait for hours for polls to open.
Citing the threat of online disinformation, the Gabonese government cut the internet until further notice and imposed a night-time curfew from Sunday “in order to prevent any misbehaviour and to preserve the security of the entire population”, according to a statement read on national television on Saturday evening.
Gabon cut off internet connectivity for several days in 2016 when violent street protests against Bongo’s contested re-election for a second term erupted.
The main opposition candidate in the poll, Ondo Ossa, an economics and management professor campaigned on the need for reform and improved economic prospects.
Every vote held in Gabon since the country’s return to a multi-party system in 1990 has ended in violence.
Many residents in the city fled to see family in other areas of the nation or left Gabon entirely in anticipation of post-election unrest. Others stocked up on supplies or increased home security.