Gabon’s main opposition candidate Jean Ping claimed Sunday he had been elected president, unseating Omar Bongo in a single-round election.
Official results from Saturday’s vote are due out on Tuesday and candidates are prohibited by law from making such announcements.
“I have been elected. I am waiting for the outgoing president to call to congratulate me,” veteran politician Ping, 73, said in the capital Libreville, prompting jubilation from hundreds of his supporters.
“Ping president!” they chanted.
“You have foiled the congenital fraud of this regime which we are finally going to see off,” added Ping.
Bongo, 57, has been in power since a disputed election held in 2009 after the death of his father, Omar Bongo, who had ruled the oil-rich Central African country for 41 years.
Ping, like the current president, worked for many years in Omar Bongo’s administration.
Both of the two frontrunners had already predicted their own victory and accused the other of cheating.
Shortly after polling ended on Saturday, the president’s spokesman said: “Bongo will win… we are already on our way to a second mandate.”
Interior Minister Pacome Moubelet Boubeya has said official results would be released around 1600 GMT on Tuesday and that it was “illegal to declare results before the relevant authorities do.”
Earlier Sunday, after Ping’s camp had said it was well on the way to victory and that Bongo was trying to “trying to push his way through,” with the backing of the army, the president’s spokesman was dismissive.
“That’s totally crazy…It’s tight, but we are ahead,” he said.
The head of the Pan-African Democracy Observatory, an NGO based in Togo, played down the significance of Ping’s declaration.
“We should not be surprised if one or the other declare victory. It’s all part of the game,” Djovi Gally told reporters.
Also Sunday, the French embassy in Libreville warned its citizens not to travel within the country unless absolutely necessary for the time being and to keep themselves informed.
– Streets deserted –
On Sunday, the streets of Libreville were almost deserted.
Fearing a repeat of the violence that followed Bongo’s victory in 2009, many residents, who had stocked up on food, stayed indoors.
Even those shops and stalls usually open on Sundays were shuttered.
“There is no trouble in this district for now but we want to get the results soon,” said Honore, a watchman.
“We’ll see how the candidates react. I hope it won’t be like last time,” he added.
In the clashes that followed the 2009 victory, several people were killed, buildings were looted and the French consulate in Port Gentil, which saw the worst of the violence, was torched.
Until shortly before polling day, Bongo was the clear favourite, with the opposition split by several prominent politicians vying for the top job.
But earlier this month, the main challengers pulled out and said they would all back Ping.
Both candidates have promised to break with the past.
Faced with repeated charges of nepotism, Bongo has long insisted he owes his presidency to merit and years of government service.
His extravagant campaign made much of the slogan “Let’s change together”, and of roads and hospitals built during his first term.
Ping described Bongo’s attempts to diversify the economy away from oil as window dressing.
One third of Gabon’s population lives in poverty, despite the country boasting one of Africa’s highest per capita incomes at $8,300 (7,400 euros) thanks to pumping 200,000 barrels of oil a day.
There has been growing popular unrest in recent months, with numerous public sector strikes and thousands of layoffs in the oil sector.