Gabon opposition candidate Jean Ping called on President Ali Bongo on Monday to “acknowledge his defeat” in Saturday’s presidential election, a head-on challenge to the Bongo family’s half-century rule over the oil-rich nation.
After publishing numbers on Sunday that showed him comfortably in the lead based on a small percentage of votes, Ping called on Monday for Bongo to step down.
“I encourage Ali Bongo to submit to the verdict of the ballot box,” he told a news conference, without providing more voting figures.
Reuters revealed that Bongo’s camp also says it is set to win and has accused Ping’s supporters of fraud. On Twitter, his spokesman Alain Claude Bilie By Nzé called Ping’s news conference “the start of an odious attempt at a coup de force.”
Gabonese law forbids candidates from publishing their own results before the official count, expected on Tuesday.
The country’s interior minister called Ping’s move to pre-empt an official announcement of the poll results by declaring victory an attempt to manipulate the democratic process.
Gabon’s one-round election means the winner simply requires more votes than any other candidate. In 2009, Bongo won with 41.73 per cent of the vote.
A Ping victory would reverberate throughout a region where strongmen in power for decades have often used their control of state institutions and resources to fend off political competition.
Bongo, 57, won election in the Central African nation of some two million people in 2009 following the death of his father Omar, who was president for 42 years.
But he has come under pressure in recent years as a sharp drop in oil prices and production have squeezed the budget and provided fodder for opposition claims that average Gabonese have struggled under his leadership.
Some opposition supporters have also called into question Bongo’s Gabonese nationality by claiming he was adopted from eastern Nigeria as a baby, which the president denies.