Libreville — Omar Bongo, president of Gabon since 1967, has won a landslide victory at the polls, securing a further seven years at the helm of the small oil-producing nation.
Already Africa's longest serving president after 38 years in office, Bongo garnered almost 80 percent of the vote in Sunday's presidential ballot, according to official results announced on national television late Tuesday.
Bongo swept up 79.21 percent of votes cast, leaving his closest rival, Pierre Mamboundou, trailing with 13.57 percent.
"And so, Omar Ondimba Bongo has been re-elected," declared Interior Minister Clotaire-Christian Ivala.
Mamboundou and third place candidate, Zacharie Myboto, claimed massive fraud, but the 30-odd international observers who monitored the poll signed off broad approval.
"The vote passed off well, all in all," said Cheikh Gueye, a Senegalese election observer for the International Organisation for French-speaking countries (OIF). He noted however that polling stations in some regions opened late due to the delayed arrival of ballot boxes or officials.
According to results from the National Electoral Commission, turnout was 63.29 percent, or 351,000 of the 555,000 eligible voters in the country of 1.5 million people.
But a Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, estimated that no more than 30 or 35 percent of voters participated in Bongo's third re-election since the adoption of multi-party politics in 1990.
Bongo worked hard and spared no expense in his campaign to secure re-election.
In September, even before an election date had been set, the head of state announced that he would make public schooling free. Three weeks later, he offered a month's worth of free water and electricity to 100,000 households. And he was generous with his supporters at political rallies.
Some 40 percent of Gabonese are unemployed and between 60 and 70 percent of the population live below the poverty line, according to Fidele Pierre Nze-Guema a sociology professor at the main university in the capital Libreville.
"But the government has the tools to address these social challenges," said Nze-Guema.
Gabon, sandwiched between Congo and Cameroon, is relatively rich compared to other countries in the region principally because of the 250,000 barrels of oil pumped out of the Gabonese ground each day.
But some are sceptical that the 69-year-old president will take economic development forward.
On the streets of Libreville, Sylvianne Aleka, a 30 year old mother, was despondent. "I know that with the re-election of Omar Bongo nothing is going to change in the next seven years because he didn't do a great deal before to address real problems, other than give out the odd small gift."
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]