Gabon/Government

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Under the 1961 constitution (revised in 1975 and rewritten in 1991), Gabon became a republic with a presidential form of government. The National Assembly has 120 deputies elected for a 5-year term. The president is elected by universal suffrage, for a 7-year term. The president appoints the prime minister, the cabinet, and judges of the independent Supreme Court. The government in 1990 made major changes in the political system. A transitional constitution was drafted in May as an outgrowth of a national political conference in March-April and later revised by a constitutional committee. Among its provisions were a Western-style bill of rights; creation of a National Council of Democracy, which oversees the guarantee of those rights; a governmental advisory board on economic and social issues; and an independent judiciary. After approval by the National Assembly, the PDG Central Committee, and the president, the Assembly unanimously adopted the constitution in March 1991. Multi-party legislative elections were held in 1990-91, despite the fact that opposition parties had not been declared formally legal.

After a peaceful transition, the elections produced the first representative, multi-party, National Assembly. In January 1991, the Assembly passed by unanimous vote a law governing the legalization of opposition parties. The president was re-elected in a disputed election in 1993 with 51% of votes cast. Social and political disturbances led to the 1994 Paris Conference and Accords, which provided a framework for the next elections. Local and legislative elections were delayed until 1996-97. In 1997 constitutional amendments were adopted to create an appointed Senate, the position of vice president, and to extend the president's term to 7 years. Facing a divided opposition, President Bongo was re-elected in December 1998, with 66% of the votes cast. Although the main opposition parties claimed the elections had been manipulated, there was none of the civil disturbance that followed the 1993 election. The president retains strong powers, such as authority to dissolve the National Assembly, declare a state of siege, delay legislation, conduct referenda, and appoint and dismiss the prime minister and cabinet members. For administrative purposes, Gabon is divided into 9 provinces, which are further divided into 36 prefectures and 8 separate subprefectures. The president appoints the provincial governors, the prefects, and the subprefects.

Political conditions
At the time of Gabon's independence in 1960, two principal political parties existed: the Bloc Democratique Gabonais (BDG), led by Leon M'Ba, and the Union Democratique et Sociale Gabonaise (UDSG), led by J.H. Aubame. In the first post-independence election, held under a parliamentary system, neither party was able to win a majority. The BDG obtained support from three of the four independent legislative deputies, and M'Ba was named prime minister. Soon after concluding that Gabon had an insufficient number of people for a two-party system, the two party leaders agreed on a single list of candidates. In the February 1961 election, held under the new presidential system, M'Ba became president and Aubame foreign minister.

This one-party system appeared to work until February 1963, when the larger BDG element forced the UDSG members to choose between a merger of the parties or resignation. The UDSG cabinet ministers resigned, and M'Ba called an election for February 1964 and a reduced number of National Assembly deputies (from 67 to 47). The UDSG failed to muster a list of candidates able to meet the requirements of the electoral decrees. When the BDG appeared likely to win the election by default, the Gabonese military toppled M'Ba in a bloodless coup on February 18, 1964. French troops re-established his government the next day. Elections were held in April with many opposition participants. BDG-supported candidates won 31 seats and the opposition 16. Late in 1966, the constitution was revised to provide for automatic succession of the vice president should the president die in office. In March 1967, Leon M'Ba and Omar Bongo (then Albert Bongo) were elected president and vice president. M'Ba died later that year, and Omar Bongo became president.

In March 1968, Bongo declared Gabon a one-party state by dissolving the BDG and establishing a new party--the Parti Democratique Gabonais. He invited all Gabonese, regardless of previous political affiliation, to participate. Bongo was elected president in February 1975 and re-elected in December 1979 and November 1986 to 7-year terms. In April 1975, the office of vice president was abolished and replaced by the office of prime minister, who has no right to automatic succession. Under the 1991 constitution, in the event of the president's death, the prime minister, the National Assembly president, and the defense minister share power until a new election is held. Using the PDG as a tool to submerge the regional and tribal rivalries that have divided Gabonese politics in the past, Bongo sought to forge a single national movement in support of the government's development policies.

Opposition to the PDG continued, however, and in September 1990, two coup attempts were uncovered and aborted. Economic discontent and a desire for political liberalization provoked violent demonstrations and strikes by students and workers in early 1990. In response to grievances by workers, Bongo negotiated with them on a sector-by-sector basis, making significant wage concessions. In addition, he promised to open up the PDG and to organize a national political conference in March-April 1990 to discuss Gabon's future political system. The PDG and 74 political organizations attended the conference. Participants essentially divided into two loose coalitions, the ruling PDG and its allies and the United Front of Opposition Associations and Parties, consisting of the breakaway Morena Fundamental and the Gabonese Progress Party.

The April conference approved sweeping political reforms, including creation of a national senate, decentralization of the budgetary process, freedom of assembly and press, and cancellation of the exit visa requirement. In an attempt to guide the political system's transformation to multi-party democracy, Bongo resigned as PDG chairman and created a transitional government headed by a new Prime Minister, Casimir Oye-Mba. The Gabonese Social Democratic Grouping (RSDG), as the resulting government was called, was smaller than the previous government and included representatives from several opposition parties in its cabinet. The RSDG drafted a provisional constitution that provided a basic bill of rights and an independent judiciary but retained strong executive powers for the president. After further review by a constitutional committee and the National Assembly, this document came into force in March 1991.

Despite further anti-government demonstrations after the untimely death of an opposition leader, the first multi-party National Assembly elections in almost 30 years took place in September-October 1990, with the PDG garnering a large majority. Following President Bongo's re-election in December 1993 with 51% of the vote, opposition candidates refused to validate the election results. Serious civil disturbances led to an agreement between the government and opposition factions to work toward a political settlement. These talks led to the Paris Accords in November 1994 in which several opposition figures were included in a government of national unity. This arrangement soon broke down, and the 1996 and 1997 legislative and municipal elections provided the background for renewed partisan politics. The PDG won a landslide victory in the legislative election, but several major cities, including Libreville, elected opposition mayors during the 1997 local election. President Bongo coasted to an easy re-election in December 1998 with 66% of the vote against a divided opposition. While Bongo's major opponents rejected the outcome as fraudulent, international observers characterized the result as representative even if the election suffered from serious administrative problems. There was no serious civil disorder or protests following the election in contrast to the 1993 election.

Country name:
conventional long form: Gabonese Republic
conventional short form: Gabon
local long form: Republique Gabonaise
local short form: Gabon

Data code: GB

Government type: republic; multiparty presidential regime (opposition parties legalized in 1990)

Capital: Libreville

Administrative divisions: 9 provinces; Estuaire, Haut-Ogooue, Moyen-Ogooue, Ngounie, Nyanga, Ogooue-Ivindo, Ogooue-Lolo, Ogooue-Maritime, Woleu-Ntem

Independence: 17 August 1960 (from France)

National holiday: Independence Day, 17 August (1960) (Gabon granted full independence from France)

Constitution: adopted 14 March 1991

Legal system: based on French civil law system and customary law; judicial review of legislative acts in Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court; compulsory ICJ jurisdiction not accepted

Suffrage: 21 years of age; universal

Executive branch:
chief of state: President El Hadj Omar BONGO (since 2 December 1967)
head of government: Prime Minister Jean-Francois NTOUTOUME-EMANE (since 23 January 1999)
cabinet: Council of Ministers appointed by the prime minister in consultation with the president
elections: president elected by popular vote for a seven-year term; election last held 6 December 1998 (next to be held NA 2005); prime minister appointed by the president
election results: President El Hadj Omar BONGO reelected; percent of vote - El Hadj Omar BONGO 66.6%, Pierre MAMBOUNDOU 16.5%, Fr. Paul M'BA-ABESSOLE 13.4%

Legislative branch: bicameral legislature consists of the Senate (91 seats) and the National Assembly or Assemblee Nationale (120 seats); members are elected by direct popular vote to serve five-year terms
elections: National Assembly - last held 15 and 29 December 1996 (next to be held NA December 2001); Senate - last held 26 January and 9 February 1997 (next to be held in January 2002)
election results: National Assembly - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - PDG 89, PGP 9, RNB 6, CLR 3, UPG 2, USG 2, independents 4, others 5; Senate - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - PDG 53, RNB 20, PGP 4, ADERE 3, RDP 1, CLR 1, independents 9

Judicial branch: Supreme Court or Cour Supreme consisting of three chambers - Judicial, Administrative, and Accounts; Constitutional Court; Courts of Appeal; Court of State Security; County Courts

Political parties and leaders: African Forum for Reconstruction or FAR [leader NA]; Circle of Liberal Reformers or CLR [General Jean Boniface ASSELE]; Democratic and Republican Alliance or ADERE [Divungui-di-Ndinge DIDJOB]; Gabonese Democratic Party or PDG, former sole party [Simplice Nguedet MANZELA, secretary general]; Gabonese Party for Progress or PGP [Pierre-Louis AGONDJO-OKAWE, president]; Gabonese People's Union or UPG [Pierre MAMBOUNDOU]; Gabonese Socialist Union or USG [leader NA]; National Rally of Woodcutters (Bucherons) or RNB [Fr. Paul M'BA-ABESSOLE]; People's Unity Party or PUP [Louis Gaston MAYILA]; Rally for Democracy and Progress or RDP [leader NA]; Social Democratic Party or PSD [Pierre Claver MAGANGA-MOUSSAVOU]

International organization participation: ACCT, ACP, AfDB, BDEAC, CCC, CEEAC, ECA, FAO, FZ, G-24, G-77, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICFTU, IDA, IDB, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS (associate), ILO, IMF, IMO, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, ITU, NAM, OAU, OIC, OPCW, UDEAC, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UPU, WCL, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTrO

Diplomatic representation in the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Paul BOUNDOUKOU-LATHA
chancery: Suite 200, 2034 20th Street NW, Washington, DC 20009
telephone: [1] (202) 797-1000
FAX: [1] (202) 332-0668
consulate(s): New York

Diplomatic representation from the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador James V. LEDESMA
embassy: Boulevard de la Mer, Libreville
mailing address: B. P. 4000, Libreville
telephone: [241] 76 20 03 through 76 20 04, 74 34 92
FAX: [241] 74 55 07

Flag description: three equal horizontal bands of green (top), yellow, and blue