A two-year transition before the free elections promised by Gabon’s new military rulers is a “reasonable objective” the new prime minister they appointed told AFP in an interview Sunday.
“It’s good to set off with a reasonable objective by saying: we have the desire to see the process come to an end in 24 months so we can go back to elections,” said Raymond Ndong Sima, prime minister during the transition. That period could end up being slightly longer or shorter, he added.
Ndong Sima was appointed last week as head of the transitional government by General Brice Oligui Nguema, who led the August coup d’etat against president Ali Bongo Ondimba.
The coup happened on August 30, moments after Bongo had been declared the winner of a presidential election which both the army and the opposition declared fraudulent.
Nguema, proclaimed president for the transitional period, immediately promised to hand the country back to civilian rule with elections after a transitional period, the length of which he did not immediately specify.
Ndong Sima, 68, is a Paris-educated economist who served as prime minister under Bongo from 2012 to 2014 before becoming a critic and competing against him in the 2016 and 2023 presidential campaigns.
His appointment, announced on state TV, was made in a decree on Thursday by Oligui.
Under the transitional charter, no member of this temporary government will be able to stand in the next presidential election.
There does not, however, appear to be anything to prevent Oligui from taking part in that race.
The general has also promised a new constitution, to be adopted by referendum, and a new electoral code.
“The principle announced” by the military, said Ndong Sima, “is that there is no longer either an opposition nor a majority, so we are taking people in all political families”.
Those drawing up the new texts for the country “will discuss this aspect of things, that is to say the duration (of the transition) and who is really allowed to stand (for election) and not to stand,” the prime minister added.
“It would not however be good for the military to stand, so they can be impartial and objective arbiters of the elections,” he said.
The new government that Ndong Sima announced on Saturday includes military figures and ex-ministers who served under ousted president Ali Bongo Ondimba, but none of the main opposition figures.
The presence of military officers in his cabinet has raised questions about how much freedom Ndong Sima will have as prime minister as well as the real power of his government.
Nguema has appointed senior officers to oversee many sectors that are also handled by members of Ndong Sima’s new government.
“It’s not new to have, alongside the president, heads of departments who provide the interface between the president and the ministerial departments,” said Ndong Sima.
“Will I have my hands free? That, I cannot know at the moment: we’ll see,” he added. “It will depend on what the military want to obtain.
“If they want to obtain a satisfactory result, it will be in their interest to give a free hand to those they have called in,” he argued — all the more so because the military will be left with the legacy of what the government does.
On that basis, he argued, “it’s in the interest of the military to give, to those they called, the possibility of working to get results”.
Last week, days before he was named as prime minister, Ndong Dima told AFP that he was “interested” by the upcoming elections.
“The situation of the country requires everyone to make a small compromise on their own position,” he said Sunday.