The major opposition parties in Gabon, Central Africa, have thrown their weight behind Jean Ping as a consensus coalition candidate for next week’s presidential elections on August 27.
Incumbent President Ali Bongo Ondimba of the ruling PDG is seeking re-election against at least 14 other candidates from as many political parties. In 2009, Ali Bongo was elected president of Gabon in a controversial election, just months after the death of his father, Omar Bongo. Ali Bongo and his father have ruled the oil-rich country for a combined 49 years.
Gabon’s constitution calls for a President to be elected for a seven-year term in a single round of voting. The winner needs a simple majority of the total number of votes cast. The system apparently works against the opposition. which has hitherto remained fractured into several small parties.
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The coming together of the opposition parties is supposed to provide the first real challenge in years to the Bongo family’s hold on power. Reuters is reporting that the main opposition parties settled on Jean Ping, 74, a former African Union Chairperson and one-time Foreign Minister of Gabon who is widely considered as one of Africa’s foremost diplomats.
Ping was born to Cheng Zhiping, a Chinese immigrant father, and a Gabonese mother who was the daughter of a tribal chief. He holds a doctorate in economics from the University of Paris. Ping started his career working for UNESCO and later transferred his skills to the Gabonese civil service.
In 1990, Ping became Gabon’s Minister of Information and a close, trusted aide of the late Omar Bongo, under whom he thrived greatly. He leveraged his position as a minister and his Chinese heritage to arrange for President Hu Jintao of China to visit the small African country in 2004. During the visit, President Jintao made a landmark speech promising a new era of mutually beneficial Sino-African relations.
Ping, however, resigned from the ruling PDG party in February 2014 after a falling out with the younger Bongo. That December, he was tear gassed along with other members of the opposition when he led a protest against Bongo’s government. He has subsequently become one of Ali Bongo’s biggest critics.
Accepting his new position as the opposition consensus candidate on Tuesday, Ping told a crowd of cheering supporters in Libreville: “I understand the gravity of the task I have been given…I won’t disappoint you.”
Ping’s prospects at the polls face an uphill challenge as he is going against President Ali Bongo of the PDG, who has the power of incumbency on his side as well as the tacit support from former colonial masters in France, who continue to wield enormous influence in the affairs of Gabon.
Ali Bongo on his part has had to continually fight off a string of allegations that won’t go away questioning his paternity and nationality. Opponents say the late Omar Bongo adopted Ali Bongo, whom they suggest is actually of Nigerian parentage.