Gabon’s Constitutional Court on Friday (Sept. 23) upheld the re-election of incumbent president Ali Bongo, extending his family’s five-decade rule over the oil-rich, small Central African nation.
Bongo was announced as the winner of the country’s general elections, which were held late last month. He won the vote by a slim margin of 6,000 votes ahead of his closest rival, Jean Ping.
Ping, a career diplomat and former head of the African Union, rejected the results and called for a recount. Immediately after the announcement of the results, deadly riots broke out in the capital and the country’s national assembly was burned down. The government responded to the riots by imposing an internet curfew, cracking down on the media, and arresting more than 800 people.
There are fears that new protests will break out in reaction to the court’s final ruling.
Ping insisted that the vote was fraudulent and filed a legal challenge with the country’s highest court. The Court was tasked to conduct an audit of the electoral tally sheets and to decided whether do a recount of the vote or declare Bongo the official winner. A team of observers was also sent by the African Union to follow the deliberations.
The recount was done despite the fact that government officials stated that the ballots were burnt immediately after the elections. Both the UN and the United States called for calm and restraint as the court’s decision was being awaited throughout the country.
The country’s top court is headed by Marie-Madeleine Mborantsuo, a former beauty who had two children with Bongo’s late father, Omar. For over 20 years, she has overseen the nine-member court, which opposition members refer to as the “Leaning Tower of Pisa” for kowtowing to the Bongo regime. Ping himself doesn’t fall far from the Bongo family tree since he was once married to one of Bongo’s sisters.
Following the court’s decision,the government also said it would hold Ping responsible if clashes erupted following the ruling, according to the BBC. On his end, president Bongo renewed calls for political dialogue with the opposition and urged unity amongst citizens.
“When we come out of an election and families are having to mourn their dead, it means we’ve betrayed democracy,” he reportedly told a crowd of his supporters. On his Twitter handle, the president wrote that he would make his win a victory for all Gabonese people.