Bloomberg News

Gabon Votes for Parliament With Bongo Set to Maintain Control

December 16, 2011

Dec. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Voters in Gabon will cast ballots in a parliamentary election tomorrow, with President Ali-Ben Bongo Ondimba likely to maintain his family’s 44-year hold on power in sub-Saharan Africa’s sixth-biggest oil producer.

As many as 475 candidates are vying for 120 seats in the central African nation’s National Assembly, including 90 from Bongo’s Parti Democratique Gabonaise and 160 candidates from smaller groups that back him. A group of 12 opposition parties say the vote won’t be fair and are calling for a boycott.

Bongo has “gradually and quietly tightened his grip on power” since he was elected in 2009 following the death of his father, Omar Bongo Ondimba, who ruled Gabon for 42 years, according to Sebastian Spio-Garbrah, emerging-market analyst at New York-based DaMina Advisors. Bongo has replaced his father’s loyalists with his own in the administration, he said.

There is a risk that protests that followed Bongo’s election will be repeated in Libreville, the capital, and Port- Gentil, the main oil city, said Hannah Koep, head of the sub- Saharan Africa desk with London-based Control Risks. Demonstrations may turn violent as “security forces have little crowd-control experience and will be instructed to crack down on unrest,” she said.

Interior Minister Jean Francois Ndongou said “the police will provide security for all citizens,” in a phone interview yesterday.

The opposition “shoots itself in the foot by not being represented in the National Assembly for a full term,” Koep said. The expected victory of Bongo’s party will be aided by the boycott and “total control” of the election commission and the court that verifies the results, she said in an e-mailed response to questions Dec. 14.

Diversifying Economy

Bongo’s government has been attempting to cut its reliance on oil with reforms to promote private companies while luring investment in infrastructure in Gabon, where one-third of the population of 1.5 million lives in poverty, according to the International Monetary Fund.

“Diversification is not progressing as much as it should,” Koep said. Economic growth may slow to 3.3 percent next year from 5.6 percent this year, according to the IMF. Oil production dropped 25 percent over the decade to 245,000 barrels a day by 2010, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy. Companies including Total SA and Royal Dutch Shell Plc pump crude from Gabonese wells.

The yield on Gabon’s $1 billion Eurobonds, due 2017, reached a high this year of 6.5 percent on Oct. 5 amid global uncertainty that led to sale of many emerging-market instruments, according to Stuart Culverhouse, chief economist at investment bank Exotix Ltd. The yield fell to 5.206 percent late yesterday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“The bonds quickly rebounded because there is an underlying solvency that’s not in question,” he said by phone from London. “It’s one of those ones that if it weakens, it opens up a good buying opportunity.”

--With assistance from Chris Kay in Abuja. Editors: Emily Bowers, Karl Maier, Ben Holland

To contact the reporters on this story: Antoine Lawson in Libreville at ankolo@bloomberg.net; Pauline Bax in Johannesburg at pbax@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Emily Bowers at ebowers1@bloomberg.net


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