Gabon is a republic with a presidential form of government dominated by the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) and the Bongo family, which has held power since 1967. Ali Bongo Ondimba was declared winner of the August 2016 presidential election. Observers noted numerous irregularities, including a highly questionable vote count in Ali Bongo Ondimba’s home province. The government forcibly dispersed violent demonstrations that followed the election. Legislative elections were scheduled for December 2016. Authorities postponed them to April 2018 with a provision for further delay should the electoral code be changed during the interim. Observers characterized the 2011 legislative elections as generally free and fair, although some opposition parties boycotted them, citing the government’s inability to provide for full transparency and prevent voter irregularities. PDG candidates won 114 of 120 seats in the National Assembly.
Civilian authorities generally maintained control over the security forces, but at times abuses and lapses of discipline occurred.
The most significant human rights issues included: harsh prison conditions; an inefficient judiciary subject to government influence; interference with the right of assembly; government corruption; trafficking in persons; and child labor.
The government took some steps to prosecute officials and punish those convicted of abuses. Nevertheless, impunity remained a problem.
Authorities took steps to investigate alleged abuses by Gabonese peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic and to mitigate future risks.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage; however, international monitors of the 2016 presidential election observed anomalies. The governing party has dominated all levels of government for nearly five decades. Citizens participated in presidential, legislative, and municipal elections. Members of the opposition questioned the fairness of the electoral process and complained of unequal media access. They also urged the government to reinstate presidential term limits, replace the first-past-the-post system with a two-round voting system, reform the Constitutional Court, and create a more effective biometric voting program–measures opposition members believed would increase the fairness of the electoral system.
In April and May, these demands were a major focus of the National Dialogue. The dialogue included political parties and civil society organizations; however, presidential contender Jean Ping and some other opposition leaders boycotted the dialogue. On May 25, dialogue participants recommended a two-round voting system, although they did not recommend presidential term limits. Additionally, participants recommended increasing the number of national assembly deputies and redistricting. At year’s end approval of these changes was pending in parliament.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: In August 2016 the National Electoral Commission (CENAP) announced the re-election of incumbent president and PDG candidate Ali Bongo Ondimba. According to CENAP the president won 50.7 percent of the vote, and leading opposition candidate Jean Ping received 47.2 percent. Voter turnout in the process, which was marred by irregularities, was 59.5 percent. Ali Bongo Ondimba was first elected in 2009, following the death of his father, former president Omar Bongo who ruled for 41 years. International observers questioned the fairness of the vote, noting the president was credited with 95.5 percent of the vote in his home province on a turnout of 99.9 percent. Postelection political violence that included the burning of the National Assembly building, significant lapses in respect for human rights, numerous arrests, and accusations of political tampering with the electoral process marred the election. Irregularities included problems with voter lists and registration, polls that opened late, improperly secured ballot boxes, organized proxy voting for members of the military, inconsistent application of rules regarding acceptable identification, and poorly trained poll workers. Authorities censored news coverage and harassed the press. Numerous candidates contested the election results, which the Constitutional Court nevertheless validated.
In the 2011 National Assembly elections, the PDG won 114 of 120 seats. Regional and local observers deemed the election generally free and fair despite minor irregularities. Observers estimated voter turnout at 34 percent. Opposition and civil society leaders boycotted these elections; the PDG ran unopposed in most regions. The average turnout in legislative elections was approximately 40 percent. On July 11, the Constitutional Court ordered that National Assembly elections originally scheduled for December 2016 must be held no sooner than April 2018.
In 2011 the minister of interior announced changes to the electoral code and the law governing political parties. Key changes included a reduction in the time permitted for revising the electoral list from 60 to 30 days and a decrease in the campaigning periods for legislative elections from 15 to 10 days. The reforms also give CENAP the authority to make decisions with a quorum of only four of the eight board members. Opposition leaders criticized these changes as constituting limits on political participation, since the opposition selects only three of eight CENAP members, while government officials or the PDG select the remaining five. They also stated that governing party politicians paid for votes and transported voters from other electoral districts to vote in their electoral districts.
The government introduced and employed biometric identification in voter registration in 2013. Opposition and civil society activists criticized the implementation process as inadequate to prevent fraud.
Political Parties and Political Participation: The PDG has dominated the government since creation of the party by former president Omar Bongo in 1968. PDG membership conferred advantages in obtaining government positions. Opposition members complained of unfair drawing of voter districts, alleging the president’s home province received disproportionately more parliamentary seats than other provinces. They also stated that the PDG had greater access to government resources for campaign purposes than did other parties.
There were restrictions on the formation of political parties. For example, the Ministry of Interior refused to register the PDG Heritage and Modernity wing of the PDG as an opposition political party. In July it overcame this obstacle by merging with an existing political party, the Front for National Unity and Utilitarian Development, which adopted the name and bylaws of Heritage and Modernity.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Nevertheless, some observers believed cultural and traditional factors prevented women from participating in political life to the same extent as men. As of October women held only five of 26 ministerial positions, 18 of 120 National Assembly seats, and 19 of 102 Senate seats. The president of the Senate was a woman.
Members of all major ethnic groups occupied prominent government civilian and security force positions. Members of indigenous populations, however, rarely participated in the political process.