LIBREVILLE — Gabon's ruling party on Wednesday stated that no law required candidates for the presidency to quit ministerial posts, as demands mounted for Defence Minister Ali Ben Bongo to resign.
"I have no legal premise on which to base the demand for the departure of a member of the government, even if he is a candidate, whatever party he is in," Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) Secretary General Faustin Boukoubi said.
Eight candidates running in Gabon's presidential election demanded Monday that two other candidates resign from the government ahead of the polls to be held on August 30.
In a joint statement, the eight candidates said Bongo and Technical Education Minister Pierre-Claver Maganga Moussavou should step down, as have presidential candidates who are mostly not in the PDG.
Jean Eyeghe Ndong resigned as prime minister to become a candidate on July 17, after heading the government for more than three years. His successor, Biyoghe Mba, has formed a new team that dropped three heavyweights, Andre Mba Obame, Casimir Oye Mvba and Paul Mba Abessole.
All three plan to stand for election and signed Monday's declaration.
Analyst Jonathan Ndoutoume Ngome, a political scientist at the Omar Bongo University of Libreville, said that while there were no legal grounds for a minister to resign, "there is a problem of ethics or conscience."
Under the electoral code, candidates are banned from using the means of state to campaign or influence the vote. "It's in that sense that one appeals to political ethics, logic and common sense for ministers to quit the government," Ngome said.
Boukoubi said the PDG would publish a statement, but he was aware of no legislation to change a situation that was decried as "extremely serious" by the group of eight.
"That a candidate can be allowed to have at his disposal all the information services that allow him to call up the data he needs on other candidates, it is a situation that we absolutely cannot accept," one of the signatories to the protest, Jules Aristide Bourdes Ogouliguende, told a news conference.
Ali Bongo, son of the late president Omar Bongo Ondimba, has been defence minister since 1999, and is the candidate of the Gabonese Democratic Party to run for the office his father held for 41 years.
He was chosen from among 10 would-be candidates from the ruling PDG after becoming prominent in the media and widely tipped as a front-runner following Omar Bongo's death at 73, which was announced on June 8.
Asked whether Bongo could benefit from his ministerial position to see intelligence reports, analyst Ndoutoume Ngome said: "I believe the concerns of the opposition are well founded, not just with regard to the minister of defence.
"When it comes to the defence minister, on whom all the talk is focused, there are perhaps grounds for concern... but since everybody has the right to the presumption of innocence, I can't declare that the minister of defence will use the means at his disposal to fight a campaign or influence the outcome," he said.
"But I think that for everybody to be on an equal footing, it's logical that all the ministers who are candidates in this election leave their jobs and that everyone has the same chance as the others," Ngome concluded.
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