The people of Gabon began voting early morning on Saturday, in an election that could decide whether President Ali Bongo will remain in office or will be unseated by a career diplomat and close associate of his late father Omar Bongo, who ran the country for 41 years.
The vote will be a two-horse race between 57-year-old Bongo and 73-year-old ex-AU Commission chief Jean Ping, who are seen as the only credible candidates of all the 10 contenders.
Until recently, Bongo was far and away the favourite, largely because several prominent politicians had declared themselves as candidates, thereby dividing the opposition.
But protracted negotiations led all the key challengers to pull out and put their weight behind Ping, with the last of them withdrawing only last week.
This election is taking place amidst a climate of persistent social unrest driven in large part by the economic impact of the slump in the price of oil, which has long dominated Gabon’s economy.
Some 628,000 of Gabon’s 1.8 million inhabitants are eligible to take part in the election, whose winner will be decided by a simple majority after a single round of voting.