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Last Updated: Friday, 15 December 2006, 16:19 GMT
Q&A: Gabon election
President Omar Bongo of Gabon
President Bongo's PDG is expected to do well at the ballot box

Voters in the west African state of Gabon go to the polls on 17 December to elect members of the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament.

At the last elections in 2001 President Omar Bongo's ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) won 88 seats and is expected to perform equally well this time.

There are around 50 opposition parties in Gabon but they are weak, with poor financial support, and present little challenge to the ruling party. Most of them are urban-based, with no distinct ideology or programme that stands out as being different from that of the PDG.

Forty of the parties are part of a coalition led by the ruling party. The coalition is called the Union for the Gabonese Presidential Majority (UMPG).

Q: How does the system work?

Gabon has a two-chamber parliament. The Senate (upper house) has 91 members, who are elected by local and departmental councillors for six-year terms.

The National Assembly has 120 members who serve five-year renewable terms. Only 111 National Assembly members will be elected by voters on Sunday. The president will appoint the remaining nine.

Voting is carried out through secret ballot. Only Gabonese citizens, aged 18 years and above, are eligible to vote. They must be registered on the electoral roll.

The eight-member Electoral Commission is overseeing the election process. It has representatives from both the ruling party and the opposition.

Q: What happened last time?

The 2001 legislative polls were boycotted by a number of opposition parties, resulting in a National Assembly dominated by the PDG.

The PDG and allied parties increased their seats to 107 after by-elections were held the following year.

The polls were also widely criticised for administrative weaknesses.

After a landslide win for his party, President Bongo offered government posts to influential opposition parties. This move further weakened the opposition.

Q: What are the main political parties?

Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG)

The ruling PDG was founded by President Omar Bongo in March 1968 and currently controls both chambers of parliament.

President Bongo keeps tight control over the PDG. He is known to use a system of patronage to undermine the opposition and woo potential rivals.

The president has allowed other parties in his coalition to field candidates in the polls but most are expected to lose to the PDG, which has candidates in all the constituencies.

Gabonese Union for Democracy and Development (UGDD)

The UGDD is one of the most prominent opposition parties in Gabon. It is led by Zacharie Myboto, who ran for the presidency last year and came third.

Mr Myboto, a former ally of the president, quit the ruling party in 2001 and formed the UGDD in 2005.

The party is fielding 71 candidates in the elections, including nine women.

Union of Gabonese People (UPG)

The Union of Gabonese People is headed by Pierre Mamboundou. Mr Mamboundou was the party's presidential candidate in the 1998 presidential election where he came second with 16.5%. He ran again in 2005 and again came second, with 13.6%.

After a brief protest against the results, Mr Mamboundou started cooperating with the government. Until then, he was referred to as the "radical" leader of Gabon's opposition.

Q: What are the main issues?

The opposition has criticised President Bongo's continued domination of the Gabon political scene. He came to power in 1967 and is Africa's longest serving president.

The PDG prefers to highlight the president's credentials in achieving political stability and economic growth.

Gabon is one of Africa's most politically stable countries despite its geographical position in a volatile sub-region. It is also one of sub-Saharan Africa's most prosperous nations, thanks to its oil wealth. But there is a high degree of income inequality and a large proportion of the population remains poor.

The opposition has also complained about corruption in the country. Gabon ranked 90 out of 163 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The government set up a special ministry to fight corruption in 2003, but it has yet to issue any report or indict any officials.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.




SEE ALSO
Country profile: Gabon
17 Oct 06 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Gabon
17 Oct 06 |  Country profiles



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