The current focus in Gabon continues to be the aftermath of the presidential elections that were held on August 27. Opposition candidate Jean Ping has contested the announcement made on August 31 handing victory to incumbent Ali Bongo. The margin, they say, was by under 6,000 votes (overall result: 49.8% for Bongo; 48.2% for the opposition; turnout <60% out of ~630k registered voters). However, Ping continues to keep the pressure on, both domestically and internationally. While domestic agitation appears to have calmed down over the last few of days, internationally Ping’s stance has been aided by statements from both the European Union (EU) and France. EU election observers continue to cast doubts on voting in the Haut-Ogooue province, a so-called Bongo stronghold, where official results suggest a 99.9% turnout with ~96% vote for the incumbent.
It is important to note that turnout in other provinces was between 45-74%. The EU observer mission has also reiterated the opposition’s demand of the publication of voting results by polling station. Meanwhile, the French Prime Minister has said a recount would be recommended in the current backdrop, and that only a “transparent, impartial” examination of the results would help end the crisis. The US has also voiced support for the publication of detailed results.
Reports place post-election violence in Gabon as having claimed close to 100 lives with more than 1000 civilians arrested. The unrest continues with blames being laid with both candidates. This all reflects a similar trajectory in 2009. The opposition then also rejected election results despite a much larger victory for Bongo (~40% vs. ~25% each for the top two opposition candidates). In 2009, elections were held on August 30 (August 27 in 2016) and official results announced on September 3. The opposition dismissed the results, and violence/strike calls ensued. The official recount did not start until September 29, with results confirmed on October 12. Bongo was sworn in for his first term on October 16 2009.
Impact on Gabon Economy
As things now stand, the probability of Bongo being sworn in for a second term is higher than that of him being forced to step aside. “For completeness, we note that even if Bongo is ousted, the elevation of Ping to the presidency is unlikely to bring any drastic changes to Gabonese domestic or external policies, given his past,” Raza Agha, London-based Middle East & Africa economist with VTB Capital said in a note to clients this week.
Beyond a couple of points, Agha explains, the stronger prospects of an eventual Bongo incumbency (and thus policy continuity/less uncertainty) is not likely to lead to any sustained upside on Gabonese Eurobonds in the near term. “Not only will the lead-up to legislative elections in December keep political noise elevated, but Ping might not just walk into the sunset after a pro-incumbent constitutional court decision/vote recount, unless there were some form of unity government.” This, though, at the moment seems unlikely given the personal nature of the attacks between Bongo and Ping.
“Thus, we think any bond rally resulting from a perceived lowering of uncertainties would not likely be more than a few points at most.”