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Gabon's former opposition faces a military "transition" test

Gabon's former opposition faces a military "transition" test
Residents holding Gabon national flags celebrate in Libreville on August 30, 2023   -  
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-/AFP or licensors


In the wake of the coup d'état in Gabon, the former opposition to President Ali Bongo is torn between its champion Albert Ondo Ossa, who stubbornly claims victory in the 26 August presidential election at the risk of isolating himself, and those who do not intend to remain spectators of the military "transition".

"The current situation is causing a lot of confusion", says Bernard Christian Rekoula, a civil society figure. But "what we are unanimous about is the satisfaction that it is no longer a Bongo in power", sums up the opposition leader who has taken refuge in France.

For the past five days, General Brice Oligui Nguema, head of the junta that ousted Ali Bongo Ondimba from power less than an hour after announcing his re-election as president of the country he had led for 14 years, has been laying the groundwork for a "transition", although he has not set a time limit, prior to "free and transparent elections".

In front of employers, civil society, political parties, journalists and religious leaders, the country's new strongman, who is due to be sworn in as "transitional president" on Monday, denounced the systematic "corruption" of the Bongo clan and promised "more democratic institutions that respect human rights", a new Constitution and a new electoral code.

In so doing, he closed the door on Mr Ondo Ossa, who urged him to hand over power, by claiming to have won the presidential election that had been "annulled" by the coup plotters, who argue that it was marred by massive "fraud".

Only six days before the election, he had been painstakingly designated as the "consensus" candidate of the Alternance 2023 platform, which included five other leading opposition figures as contenders for the supreme magistracy.

Referring in particular to alleged family links between Mr Oligui and Mr Bongo, he denounced a "palace revolution" rather than a coup d'état, and the perpetuation of the "Bongo system" through the general, whom he did not rule out meeting. These remarks did not go down well with many of the militants interviewed.

On Sunday, the leaders of the Alternance 2023 coalition were warmly received, in his absence, by General Oligui at the presidential palace, according to public television footage.

There are "two important figures in Gabon, the one with the strength, General Oligui, and the one with the legitimacy, Albert Ondo Ossa. I can tell you with certainty that the latter won the elections, and the military know it", says Anges Kevin Nzigou, a lawyer and former candidate in the 26 August legislative elections.

- Benefit of the doubt

"When a baccalaureate test is cheated somewhere, the baccalaureate is cancelled for everyone, you don't come and complain" saying "I had 8 or 18", "wait for the next test and you'll have 18", retorted Mr Oligui in an exchange with the press broadcast on public television.

The first cracks are appearing in the ranks of the Alternance 2023 parties, some of whom consider Mr Ondo Ossa's demands to be "radical" and fear that they will miss the transition train. "We have to be in the game", says a leading member of the Rally for the Fatherland and Modernity (RPM).

Raymond Ndong Sima, Ali Bongo's former prime minister and Mr Ondo Ossa's rival in Alternance 2023 before withdrawing for him, publicly took issue with the economics professor, who is demanding that the ballot count be completed.

Asking for a recount is unreasonable," he told AFP, "we can't rely on this kind of material" because all the voting operations were fraudulent.

"We need to talk to the military, so that they don't close themselves off by reproaching us for not having participated" in the transition, he said.

"We must not put their intentions on trial", added Mr Ndong Sima, who advocates a transition of "24 months maximum" and says he is "interested in the next presidential election" in which "the military must not participate".The unity behind Mr Ondo Ossa "is no longer relevant" because "for many, it was a choice by default that the government imposed" with a voting system tailor-made for Ali Bongo, stressed Mr Rekoula.

"In the light of General Oligui's speeches and initial actions, we dare to give him the benefit of the doubt" while "observing" without "contesting for the sake of contesting", says Mr Rekoula, a supporter of a transition that is "as short as possible", but without giving him a "blank cheque" for all that.

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