Africa News Politics

Gabon PM Says Two Years ‘Reasonable’ for Return to Civilian Rule

A two-year deadline for the free elections promised in Gabon by the military that overthrew President Ali Bongo is a “reasonable objective”, the transitional Prime Minister told AFP on Sunday.

On August 30, the army overthrew Ali Bongo Ondimba, who had been in power for 14 years, moments after he was proclaimed re-elected in an election deemed fraudulent by the military and the opposition.

General Brice Oligui Nguema, proclaimed President of the transition, immediately promised to return power to civilians through elections at the end of a period which he did not announce.

Raymond Ndong Sima, a civilian appointed Prime Minister by the military last Thursday, said: “It’s a good idea to start with a reasonable objective and say: we hope to see the process completed in 24 months, so that we can return to elections”, adding that this period could be “slightly longer or shorter”.

Mr. Ndong Sima, 68, was appointed head of the transitional government by General Oligui Nguema. He was previously a leading opposition figure to Mr. Bongo.

The coup d’état on August 30 took place in a matter of moments and without any bloodshed.

The military putschists, who enjoy the support of the vast majority of the population and the opposition, claim to have acted to “preserve human lives” after a fraudulent election and to put an end to the “bad governance” and “corruption” of which they accuse the Bongo clan.

On Saturday, Mr. Ndong Sima announced the composition of his government, appointed by General Oligui and comprising former ministers of the deposed president, members of the former opposition and civil society figures previously hostile to Mr. Bongo and his family, who had ruled the country for over 55 years.

The transitional charter put in place by the military prohibits members of the provisional government, including Mr. Ndong Sima, from standing in the forthcoming elections, but does not explicitly exclude General Oligui from running for the presidency.

General Oligui has also promised a new constitution, to be adopted by referendum, and a new electoral code, with the participation of “all the living forces of the Nation”.

“The principle announced by the military “is that there is no longer any opposition or majority, so we are taking people from all political families”, commented the Prime Minister.

“The people who are going to (…) prepare various texts, will discuss this aspect of things, i.e. the duration (of the transition), and who is really entitled to run and not to run,” explained Mr. Ndong Sima.

“It would not be a good idea for the military to run, for them to be impartial and objective arbiters of the election”, he felt, however.

Hands free?

General Oligui Nguema’s appointment to the Presidency of the transition and to the military committee that forms his close team, of officers in charge of most of the same sectors as Mr. Ndong Sima’s ministers, raises the question of the autonomy and room for manoeuvre of his civilian government.

“It’s nothing new to have heads of departments working alongside the President (of Gabon), acting as an interface between the President and the ministerial departments,” Mr. Ndong Sima said.

“Will my hands be free? That, I can’t say at the moment, we’ll see” and “it will depend on what the military want to achieve”, he felt, adding: “If they want to achieve a satisfactory result, it will be in their interest to leave their hands free to those they have called”.