Tag Archives: Contested presidential election

What next in Gabon, following contested presidential poll?

The August 27 presidential election held Gabon observers riveted to their news and twitter feeds (#Gabon, #GabonVote) as the centralization and publication of vote results dragged into a fourth day.  Results were finally announced by the Minister of Interior in the afternoon of August 31.

According to the election commission’s preliminary results, incumbent President Ali Bongo won reelection with 49.80 percent of the votes, against 48.23 percent for his closest contender, former chair of the African Union (AU) commission, Jean Ping. The eight other candidates remaining in the race received less than 2 percent among them. Voter turn-out among Gabon’s 627,805 registered voters was reportedly 59.46 percent. The electoral code does not provide for a run-off in the event that no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote. For a discussion of the election framework and of the institutions responsible for managing the electoral process, see the July 2016 pre-election report by the National Democratic Institute (NDI).

By the evening of August 30 it was clear that the outcome of the election hinged on one of the nine provinces of Gabon – the Haut-Ogooué, the stronghold of incumbent President Ali Bongo and birthplace of his father, Omar Bongo. Results for this second most populous province in the country were only received late at night, according to the chairman of the election commission (CENAP), René Aboghé Ella. Reportedly, 99.93 percent of the electorate in the province (71,714 registered voters) turned out on election day, with 95.46 percent of the votes going to Bongo, giving him an edge of 5,594 votes over Ping. A razor thin margin. In the remaining eight provinces and among the diaspora, according to the provisional results announced by the Ministry of Interior to be validated by the Constitutional Court, voter turnout was between 45 and 71 percent, see table below:

Gabon 2016 presidential election results

Province Ali Bongo Jean Ping Voter turn-out
Estuaire 37.33% 60.88 % 47.35 %
Haut-Ogooué 95,46% 4,31% 99,93%
Moyen-Ogooué 30,51% 66,68 % 57,24%
Ngounié 41,76% 53,76% 62,66%
Nyanga 44,07% 52,08% 59,24%
Ogooué-Ivindo 65,96% 32,50% 65,61%
Ogooué-Lolo 53,25% 44,65% 70,52%
Ogooué-Maritime 29,67% 68,26% 45,41%
Woleu-Ntem 24,80% 72,90% 67,55%
Diaspora 37,38% 58,35% 71,05%
Total 49.80% 48.23% 59.46%

While Ping won six of the nine provinces plus the diaspora vote, the exceptionally high voter turn-out in favor of Bongo in the province of Haut-Ogooué was enough to turn the tables.

Upon the announcement of President Bongo’s reelection, riots broke out in Libreville and other cities in the interior. Angry protesters set fire to the national assembly building; government and private pro-opposition media offices were also vandalized. More than 1,000 people were arrested in Libreville and the provinces, and three killed, according to official sources. The opposition claims many more died. Ping called for a national strike, but economic activity resumed slowly the week following the announcement of the results.

The violence was not a surprise, in a context of deep political polarization between supporters of President Bongo and his opponents, many of whom are former prominent members of the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG). For an earlier blog post on Ali Bongo’s efforts at breaking with his father’s patronage practices and casting himself as a modern, transparent and accountable president, see here. Inviting the EU to observe the election appears to have been in line with these efforts.

The deadline for contesting the results is today, 8 September.  While the Bongo camp has already indicated its intention to complain to the Constitutional Court about certain polling stations, the Ping side demands a recount for the Haut-Ogooué province specifically, preferably in the presence of international experts. The EU observer delegation to Gabon has flagged “anomalies” in the number of non-voters and blank and invalid ballots that does not appear to correspond with the reported participation rate in Haut-Ogooué. President Bongo has charged the EU observers with “bias,” for not flagging polling stations where Ping allegedly scored 100 percent of the vote. According to Bongo, a recount would be done at the “level of the Constitutional Court,” which Ping says he does not trust.  The EU, France and the US have called for the publication of results polling station by polling station, to ease cross checking or results with the copies of results sheets given to candidate representatives at each polling station.

The AU has offered to send a delegation to facilitate talks between the two sides, under the leadership of President Idriss Deby of Chad who currently holds the AU-chairmanship – an offer welcomed by both Bongo and Ping.

Whoever is ultimately declared the winner when the Constitutional Court validates the final results, it is clear that Gabon is in dire need of electoral and political reforms. The EU observer delegation’s preliminary statement stated that management of the election “lacked transparency.” Public trust in the election commission leading into the election was already the lowest among 36 countries surveyed by Afrobarometer in 2014/2015: 51 percent of Gabonese surveyed said they do “not at all” trust the CENAP; an additional 24 percent trust it “just a little.” Only 8 percent trust it “a lot,” and 17 percent “somewhat.” Moreover, 71 percent said that their votes are “never” or only “sometimes” counted fairly. At the same time, Afrobarometer found the Gabonese to be among the strongest supporters of multiparty democracy in Africa; and 92 percent of the respondents said they favor limiting presidential terms to two (currently, Gabon does not have presidential term limits). These sentiments echo findings by the NDI pre-election assessment mission indicating widespread consensus among Gabonese about the need for “institutional reforms that are at the heart of recurring tensions around elections in the country” (p.19).


Iran – Conservative Parliament rejects President-nominated Minister of Science


Yesterday, October 29, the Iranian parliament has rejected the President Rouhani-nominated new Minister of Science and Education, Mahmoud Nili Ahmadabadi, after Reza Faraji-Dana was removed from the same post by the parliament in August.

This is the latest chapter in an on-going battle between the majority conservative factions in parliament and the moderate president Hassan Rouhani. The stakes on high because the deadline for the definitive nuclear deal with the 5 + 1 is approaching and Iranian conservatives do not seem ready to accept that it will be their moderate, reformist enemy who will be remembered as the President who put an end to sanctions and to the decades-long cold war against the United States.

The latest blow to Rouhani came yesterday morning when after almost three hours of debate Nili-Ahmadabadi lost the investiture vote with 160 votes against his nomination and 79 in favour. Nili-Ahmadabadi was nominated by Rouhani last month and was introduced to parliament on October 22. The conservative opponents of Rouhani have accused him of proposing candidates who are friendly to the West or who back ‘sedition’ against the ruling establishment, reviving anti-Green Movement rhetoric.

During the discussion in parliament, MPs questioned Nili-Ahmadabadi over his stance in 2009 during the mass protests against the re-election of President Ahmadinejad. He admitted that he did sign a letter with fellow academics condemning attacks on student protesters inside university campuses. However, he said that ‘none of my colleagues nor I have crossed the red lines set by Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. You will not find a single one of us who overstepped those limits’ and added that ‘all my colleagues believe in the system (of the Islamic republic) and acted within the framework of it’.

AFP reports a Western diplomat in Tehran saying that the post of science minister is so sensitive because Iranian universities were ‘very politically active and difficult to manage.’ The same source also reports the declaration of Ahmad Shirazi, a university professor, who criticised the use of the word ‘sedition’ by conservative and principalist MPs. ‘This question of sedition has become a stick by which fundamentalists and conservatives impose their will,’ he declared. Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, a conservative MP, declared that the responsibility for the current stalemate falls on the shoulders of the government, which is unable to find a suitable candidate who needs to be able and willing to control university campuses and prevent disorders.

For his part, president Rouhani reacted to the accusations of the MPs by recalling that universities need a peaceful atmosphere to be able to promote themselves as centres of science and research. He said that the ministry has a specific importance, adding ‘we want universities to be aware of political issues but not borrow their slogans from politicians.’

Afghanistan – Explaining the presidential election stalemate: foreign interference and local political culture

This is a guest post by Clément Therme at EHESS, Paris

Photo Clément Therme (4)

In 2001, Afghanistan became the first laboratory for the neoconservative political project of “exporting democracy.” Thirteen years later, the inability of the country’s political system to guarantee a fair electoral process has created a political vacuum possibly lethal to the fragile Afghan political system. Two months after the June 14th electoral run-off between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, the two front-runners of the presidential election, electoral results are still unknown. Widespread accusations of fraud are indeed delaying the result, and diplomatic efforts by the UN and the US have so far failed to move the process forward. The role of the president is vital to the country due to the highly centralised presidential system put in place under the influence of the Americans after 2001.

There are two sets of factors – internal and external – that explain the current stalemate. Domestically, Afghanistan remains a failed state, unable to control its territory and effectively organise elections. In addition, ethnicization of politics remains a major issue in the country, with the mobilisation of ethnic Pashtuns being the main factor behind Ashraf Ghani’s electoral success at the second round of the presidential election. Votes for him increased from 31.56% at the first round of the election, which took place in April 2014, to 56.4% in June – figures that are however challenged by the contender Abdullah Abdullah. Some experts interpreted the first round result as the end of the warlords’ system with its ethnic legacy, and the beginning of a new era of Afghan politics. On the contrary, popular perceptions and the result of the second round seem to prove that ethnicity still plays a central role. Indeed Ghani’s supporters insisted that his electoral success was the “victory of the majority” of the population, the Pashtun, over the minority. It is clear that the ethnicization of Afghan politics remains the main challenge for the stability of the country over the coming months.

On the other hand, Abdullah Abdullah’s supporters denounce the lack of credibility of the electoral results, especially in Pashtun provinces. The scale of the fraud could indeed involve as much as a quarter of the ballots (2 out of 8 million votes). Abdullah accused Karzai of orchestrating Ghani’s electoral success at the June election as a sign of solidarity due to their common Pashtun identity. Abdullah’s accusation are consistent with the popular and widespread belief in conspiracy theories, which led to the resignation of Zia ul-Haq Amarkhail from his post as Secretariat Chief of the Independent Election Commission’s (IEC) in June 2014. This belief, strengthened by nationalism, holds that the IEC is part of a British conspiracy to destabilise Afghanistan, and it is deeply rooted in the long history of foreign interventions in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. Conspiracy is one of the crucial factors reinforcing the popularity of anti-government groups like the Taliban and the Pakistan-based Haqqani network. As a result, the widespread dissatisfaction with the 2014 presidential election results is likely to politically weaken the next president. While constitutionally remaining the most powerful man in Afghanistan, he could indeed suffer from a lack of popular legitimacy due to the controversy surrounding his election. In other words, part of the population considers that the election of Afghanistan’s next president is the result of foreign, in this case American intervention combined with a deal-making amongst the political elite. Consequently, the mistrust between people and their political representatives will only widen.

Beyond the widespread belief in conspiracy theories, it is worth mentioning the external factors that are affecting the controversial presidential contest. Generally speaking, when it comes to foreign intervention in Afghanistan, two opposite narratives are present in the country. Whereas one considers it positive, the other one highlights the high cost Afghanistan pays for its dependence on foreign aid and security. The positive view on foreign influence is based on the belief that national actors are incapable of peacefully resolving Afghanistan’s endemic political infighting, which dominated the 2014 presidential election. When John Kerry visited Afghanistan in August 2014, Hasht-e Subh, Herat’s newspaper, highlighted the role he played in mediating between Ghani and Abdullah, stating that his intervention avoided a political and ethnic “explosion” (monfajer) inside the country.

On the contrary, those with negative views on foreign influence point to its tragic consequences, among which is the fact that Afghan institutions have traditionally lacked internal legitimacy. This has been the fate of a number of Afghan rulers, such as the King Shah Shuja Durrani, who was assassinated in 1842 because he was brought to power by the British and accordingly accused of being the servant of a foreign power. The incumbent president Hamid Karzai risked a similar reputation, and it is no coincidence that in the last year of his presidency he seemed determined to ward off the accusation of being an American puppet. In 2013, Karzai’s refusal to sign the US-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement (the SPA, which allows the presence of a limited number of US troops for training purposes) was seen as a move to distance himself from the US, in a bid to guarantee his own survival after the presidential term ended. Moreover, Karzai recently started to use anti-American rhetoric echoing the Islamic Republic of Iran’s political statements, especially in relation to the supposed US psychological warfare against Muslim states.

Moreover, Afghan authorities denounce interference from regional powers, namely Pakistan and Iran, as a threat to the stabilisation of the country. The two presidential candidates accuse each other of being in hock to a powerful neighbour: Ghani (a Pashtun) is supposed to be close to Pakistan while Abdullah (a Tajik) to Iran. Despite the influence of the two regional powers in Afghanistan, their respective interests are based mainly on security concerns rather than on hegemonic political projects.

Whatever the final result of the presidential election will be, Afghanistan needs to face numerous challenges that go well beyond its well-known problems with corruption and nepotism. In addition to this, and along with a much needed decentralisation reform able to improve the daily life of the Afghan people, the next president will need to secure his political legitimacy against the threat of divisions and split that will put national security at serious risk.

Clément Therme is an Associate Fellow at the School for Advanced Studies in Social Sciences (EHESS, Paris). He is author of Les relations entre Téhéran et Moscou depuis 1979 (French University Press, 2012).