Competing for the Presidency: A Pre-Election Assessment, June 1993
The Gabonese presidential election scheduled for December will test the commitment to democratization of the regime that has governed the country for a quarter of a century. Because an impending transition from one-party rule to multi-party democracy is nowhere more clearly displayed, the eyes of much of Africa will be on that election. Most Africans and their friends from abroad will wish the Gabonese well, hoping that the election articulates their will; others, some of them not far away, will look with trepidation at an event that will certainly have implications for them. By conducting a free and fair election and making a violence-free transition toward a more democratic system of government, Gabon can present a model for the continent.
Gabon has been moved to this point in its evolution as a modern nation by popular pressures for broader participation in government. It now has in place the rudiments of a democracy, nascent institutions, basic laws and an increasingly involved citizenry. Its experience in conducting freely contested legislative elections in 1990 gives it a capability lacking in many other countries moving along the same path. It has ample resources to defray the costs of the election, but it will need moral, technical and some material support from its friends.
The Gabonese government, as administrator of the election, will have the burden of proof that the election is being conducted fairly. It will have to earn the credibility and endorsement of its own people and the international community by moving promptly in response to allegations of abuse and by respecting the rules of the game, as it expects its opponents to do.
There are two immediate tasks for the government. It must complete the legislative and administrative requirements for implementation of the electoral code. Secondly, it must issue the enabling legislation and orders (textes d 'application) to permit the National Communication Commission (NCC) to enter into its full functioning. It is likely that access to and control of the media of mass communication will be one of the most contentious aspects of the run-up and campaign periods prior to the presidential elections. One important mechanism for resolving conflicts around the issues of party and candidate access to state-controlled mass media will be a functioning NCC, with adequate staff and budget and a well-defined mandate. Equally important will be well-defined election regulations and procedures which are needed to flesh out the general process described in the Electoral Code.
In addition to these immediate tasks, the government, the political parties and non-governmental organizations, possibly with the assistance of the international community, must find acceptable and effective means for the dissemination of information to the Gabonese public on the up-coming election. A government-sponsored program of voter education should begin well before the election. Political parties should be authorized to use all available outlets for the responsible dissemination of their message. (In this context, recent reports of the jamming of broadcasts by the RNB's radio station are disturbing. IFES recommends that the government investigate the source of this jamming and resolve any outstanding legal issues that stand in the way of full authorization of private radio and television stations.) Non-governmental organizations can be involved in the electoral process both through civic education programs and through non-partisan monitoring of the campaign and election.
The IFES assessment team, in Gabon May 8-18, 1993 along with two staff members from the National Democratic Institute, was welcomed warmly by all of its Gabonese contacts, both governmental and non-governmental. It wishes to express its thanks to all those who generously shared their time and information with the team, and to the Ambassador and staff of the U.S. Embassy in Libreville for their assistance.
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