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Key findings
  • About two-thirds (68%) of Gabonese endorse “regular, open, and honest elections” as the best way to choose leaders, an 8-percentage-point drop from 2015.
  • Fewer than one in five Gabonese (18%) rate the 2016 national election as “completely free and fair” or “free and fair with minor problems” – half as many as perceived the 2011 legislative elections as fair.
  • Only about one in six Gabonese (16%) say they trust the national electoral commission “somewhat” or “a lot,” a 9-percentage-point decline since 2015.
  • Most Gabonese say that people have to be careful about how they vote in elections (85%), what they say about politics (86%), and which political organizations they join (82%).
  • Four in 10 Gabonese (42%) say they fear election-related intimidation and violence, and most (85%) say the government is doing a poor job of preventing such violence.

Elections form a central pillar of democratic rule, yet many elections in Africa have been marred by unfair campaign conditions, rigged votes, or term-limit adjustments to help incumbents retain office (Bratton, 1998; Levitsky & Way, 2002; Lindberg, 2006; Collier & Vicente, 2012).

In Gabon, violence ensued after President Ali Bongo was accused of electoral fraud in his narrow re-election victory in 2016 (Hoije & Batassi, 2018). Legislative elections were scheduled and repeatedly postponed until the Constitutional Court dissolved Parliament and called for the government to step down in May 2018 (Reuters, 2016; Muisyo, 2017; Agence FrancePresse, 2018). While elections have been scheduled for October 2018, constitutional amendments in January 2018 have strengthened the president’s powers, and many fear that Bongo’s “constitutional power grab” could be setting up a further executive dynasty in Africa (Kiwuwa, 2018).

Given their recent experiences with elections, how do ordinary Gabonese view the electoral process in their country? Based on Afrobarometer survey data from 2017, this dispatch finds that support for choosing leaders through elections has decreased since 2015. An overwhelming majority of Gabonese see their most recent national election as less than free and fair, and many believe that people have to be careful about how they vote. Most say the government is doing a poor job of preventing political violence at election time, and looking ahead, fewer than one in three Gabonese feel that improvements to the electoral process are likely.

Thomas Isbell

Post-doctoral research fellow and research assistant at Afrobarometer

Sadhiska Bhoojedhur

Sadhiska Bhoojedhur is a senior data analyst for Island Living, Mauritius.