Freedom House Urges Gabon to Hold Democratic Elections
Freedom House strongly urges Gabon’s interim leadership to organize democratic elections to replace President Omar Bongo, who died Monday after leading the west-central African nation for 42 years. The elections should reflect the will of the Gabonese people and take place within 45 days as prescribed by the country’s constitution.
Senate leader Rose Francine Rogombe was sworn in as interim president today, in a move Gabonese officials say is aimed at assuring citizens and observers that the government remains stable. Opposition leaders fear that Ali-Ben Bongo, the former president’s son and head of the defense ministry, will replace his father as president.
“Under President Bongo, Gabon was not an electoral democracy so we hope this transition provides the country’s citizens with their first opportunity to freely choose their leader,” said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House executive director.
President Bongo died as Africa’s longest-serving ruler following several elections marred by inaccurate voter lists, the abuse of state resources and falsified turnout figures. The ruling Gabonese Democratic Party has remained in power since its creation in 1968, leading a coalition that includes 40 out of Gabon’s 50 registered political parties.
Although oil wealth has made Gabon one of Africa’s richest countries, corruption is rampant and most Gabonese live in poverty. President Bongo was convicted of accepting bribes by a French judge in 1996 and amassed a fortune large enough to make him one of the richest men in the world.
Civil liberties in Gabon suffered a number of setbacks within the last year, as authorities arrested, suspended or harassed nongovernmental organizations critical of the government. State censorship of the press is pervasive, with publications printed outside of the country subject to review before distribution.
Gabon is ranked Partly Free in the 2009 edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House’s annual survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in the 2009 version of Freedom of the Press.
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Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Gabon since 1972.
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