Voters in the Central African country of Gabon are heading to the polls to vote in presidential, legislative, and local elections on Saturday, with the opposition looking to unseat President Ali Bongo Ondimba, who is seeking reelection for a third term in office.
Polls across the country opened at 7 a.m. (0700GMT) and will close at 1700GMT, with about 850,000 voters expected to cast ballots.
Thirteen candidates are vying for the presidency.
Six of the country’s biggest opposition parties are rallying behind a single candidate under the coalition movement Alternance 2023 to boost prospects of unseating the incumbent.
The consensus candidate, Albert Ondo Ossa, who also ran in the 2009 presidential election, is a former education minister and the main challenger to Bongo.
Large crowds attended the closing rallies for both Bongo and Ossa in the capital Libreville on Friday.
Bongo campaigned on the promise of boosting investments across the country’s nine provinces.
“All together, we will win these elections by knockout,” Bongo, flanked by family members, told supporters at his last rally.
On the eve of the elections, Jean Ping, the main challenger to Bongo in 2016, declared “his full support” for Ossa, and appealed to the Gabonese to support the consensus candidate.
Interior Minister Lambert Noel Matha called on political actors to help maintain the peaceful climate and steer clear of hate-or ethnic-based campaigning.
Matha announced that the country’s land and sea borders would remain closed from Saturday midnight to Sunday as part of measures to ensure safety during the elections.
Abdou Abarry, the UN special representative for Central Africa, reiterated UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call for a peaceful, inclusive, and credible electoral process.
“The UN warns against all forms of intimidation, violence, human rights violations and attacks on freedom of expression,” he said.
Ali Bongo Ondimba, 64, took over from his father Omar Bongo Ondimba in 2009 after the latter ruled the tiny oil-rich Central African state for more than 41 years.
Bongo was reelected in 2016 for a second seven-year term in polls observers said was marred by violence. In April, the Gabonese parliament amended the country’s constitution to reduce the president’s term from seven to five years.