Two opposition heavyweights in Gabon are set to back former African Union chief Jean Ping in his bid to oust President Ali Bongo at the ballot box this month
Following a night of negotiations, Guy Nzouba Ndama, 70, who served as parliamentary speaker for two decades, and former prime minister Casimir Oye Mba, 74, both withdrew from the August 27 presidential race.
Nzouba Ndama told AFP that both would throw their weight behind Ping, 73, in a decision which would be made public later on Tuesday at a public meeting with the former AU chief.
“In the public interest, I bow to the decision of parties and civil society,” he said.
The three men have been seen as the main contenders to beat 57-year-old Bongo in the equatorial African country, a former French colony that exports oil and tropical hardwoods.
Members of Ping’s entourage have presented him as the “single candidate” to beat Bongo, although more than a dozen people have entered the race.
The move was quickly denounced by government spokesman Alain-Claude Bilie By Nze, who described it in a posting on Twitter as “horse trading whose only aim is to share out privilege and power”.
“This unnatural alliance between candidates who have no shared vision is being done at the expense of the Gabonese people and constitutes a real risk for Gabon,” he added.
Ping, who served as chair of the AU commission from 2008 to 2012, was previously foreign minister for almost a decade. He was considered close to Bongo’s father, Omar Bongo, who ruled Gabon from 1967 until his death in 2009.
Ping married the eldest daughter of the late president, with whom he has two children. He later married an Ivorian and is now a father of eight.
If elected, Gabon would be “sheltered from need and fear”, Ping said as he launched his campaign on Saturday in the central town of Lambarene.
The electoral commission has approved a total of 14 candidates to contest the election, but none of the others have the political weight of the incumbent or Ping.
Opposition activists had called for Bongo to be blocked from running, claiming that he was ineligible as a Nigerian who had been adopted by the former president, which would make his candidacy unconstitutional.
“I’m in the situation of being an outgoing president with a track record and they prefer to come and get me on ridiculous things,” he said in an interview with AFP on Friday, referring to opposition claims he falsified his birth certificate to prove his eligibility for Gabon’s top job.
On July 25, the constitutional court rejected an appeal against the eligibility of Bongo, who came to power in a disputed election following his father’s death.