Libreville, June 3, 2016 -- The National Democratic Institute (NDI) deployed an international delegation to Gabon from May 29 to June 3. The purpose of the mission was to assess preparations for the 2016 presidential election and to support Gabonese efforts at ensuring a peaceful, transparent and credible election.
Traveling at the invitation of the Gabonese government and welcomed by all Gabonese political parties – from the majority and opposition – the delegation included political and civic leaders, and election and regional experts from North America, Europe and Africa. It comprised Right Honorable Joe Clark, former Prime Minister of Canada; Ambassador Maria Leissner, Secretary General of the Community of Democracies; Dr. Christopher Fomunyoh, Senior Associate for Africa at NDI; and Dr. Sophia Moestrup, Deputy Director for Central and West Africa at NDI.
During its stay in Gabon, the delegation met with election authorities, notably the Ministry of Interior, the election commission (CENAP), the Constitutional Court and the National Communications Council (CNC); members of the major political parties from ruling and opposition coalitions; the Council for Democracy (CND); representatives of civic organizations and labor unions; the Mediator of the Republic; and representatives of international development partners present in Libreville, to elicit their views on the electoral framework and political process. The team was also received by the Head of State. The delegation conducted its activities in conformity with Gabonese law and international standards as reflected in the 2005 “Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation.”
While awaiting a more detailed assessment report, the delegation offers its preliminary findings and recommendations on steps that could enhance confidence and participation in the election process.
Overview of the electoral context
The delegation observed that there is intense political debate around the elections with several political parties and groupings planning to participate actively in the upcoming presidential race. The Gabonese expect the outcome of the electoral process to contribute significantly to the consolidation of peace and democracy in the country.
The delegation noted considerable concerns among many of its interlocutors pertaining to growing tensions and the possibility of violence during the election period. These concerns derive in large part from the history of past presidential elections in Gabon, coupled with an increasingly polarized socio-political environment. Under these circumstances, concrete steps should be taken to increase transparency and calm tensions. Such actions would reassure citizens that disputes and acts of violence would be prevented before, during and after the election.
These tensions also stem from grievances about the constitutional and legal framework of elections in Gabon, including the electoral system, term limits and the representation of civil society on election management bodies - highly relevant questions on which Gabonese actors should be able to agree in order to consolidate democracy in the country. These differences of opinion are exacerbated by the lack of equal access to public media by opposition parties and the lack of professionalism in information dissemination by some private media outlets.
While many Gabonese political leaders call for dialogue, they each complain of the lack of good faith efforts on the part of their opponents. Although prior attempts at dialogue may not have succeeded, most Gabonese that met with the delegation would like to see those efforts pursued.
The delegation is aware that Gabon has some institutions that could play a catalytic role in fostering citizen participation in politics, such as the National Council for Democracy (CND) and the office of the Mediator of the Republic. These innovative institutions are assets for the consolidation of democracy in Gabon, and strengthening their capacity would provide additional platforms for Gabonese politicians and citizens by facilitating communications and regular interaction. Similarly, the delegation acknowledges early steps over the past few years to modernize the Gabonese electoral system and hopes those initiatives will be further perfected.
The delegation also heard concerns about potential shortcomings in the operationalization of the electoral framework that could undermine the inclusivity, peacefulness, transparency and credibility of the August 2016 presidential poll. These concerns touch on important aspects of the electoral process such as: the reliability of the voters list; the bi-partisan make-up of the CENAP national commission and its decentralized components; and the counting, compilation, centralization and announcement of election results. Under these circumstances, extraordinary steps should be taken beyond the letter of the law by election authorities in consultation with political actors to build citizen confidence in the election and its outcome.
In the spirit of international cooperation and the principles of the African Union Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, and taking into consideration the open-mindedness of the Gabonese with whom we met which aligns with their best national traditions, the delegation offers the following recommendations:
- Political and civic leaders should be mindful that elections are a key pillar of democracy; and viewing them as a purely recurring administrative exercise would undermine the free expression of the will of the people.
- Concrete steps should be taken to enhance confidence amongst candidates and political parties in the voters list, and could include a professional, public audit of the registry.
- The election management body (CENAP) should take concrete steps to speed up the vote counting and transmission of election results. It should also emulate best global practices in the consolidation of results by releasing figures in both aggregated and disaggregated forms at each level of compilation in order to enhance transparency and confidence amongst voters, candidates and political parties.
- The National Communication Council (CNC) should adopt measures in partnership with public media to guarantee equitable access to public media during the two-week election campaign as provided for by law. Additionally, the CNC should make accommodations to reflect the reality that the country is already in campaign mode.
- The Code of Conduct recently adopted by the National Council for Democracy (CND) as a moral and ethics charter, should be publicly endorsed and implemented by all presidential candidates and party leaders in order to reassure the population of their commitment to contribute to peaceful, transparent and credible elections.
- Steps should be taken to facilitate the optimum participation of civil society groups and enhance their capacity to recruit, train and deploy citizen observers to monitor all phases of the electoral process across the country before, during and after the election.
- Political and civic leaders should manifest their commitment to peaceful elections by initiating a high level dialogue as soon as possible in order to lower tensions in the pre- and post-election periods.
The delegation calls on all Gabonese leaders across the political spectrum from majority as well as opposition parties, heads of institutions, civil society, labor unions, the media, religious leaders and the population at large to consider upcoming elections as a historic moment to consolidate peace and democracy and preserve the highest interests of the country.
The delegation thanks all Gabonese with whom we met for their warm welcome.
The mission was funded by a grant from the Department of State under the Fundamental Freedoms Fund.
NDI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to support and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide through citizen participation, openness and accountability in government.