LIBREVILLE, Gabon – Gabon's president is looking to extend his family's rule of the central African nation past the 50-year mark by winning a second term in an election Saturday.
Ali Bongo Ondimba took power in 2009 following the death of his father, Omar Bongo, who ruled the oil-producing country of about 1.5 million people for more than 40 years.
His strongest opposition comes from Jean Ping, a former chair of the African Union Commission who managed to get several other high-profile opposition figures to support his candidacy.
But there are still a total of nine challengers in the race and Gabon does not have a runoff system, meaning Bongo does not have to top 50 percent to secure re-election.
The campaign period has been tense, with Bongo accusing the opposition of inciting violence by claiming he plans to steal the vote.
At a rally Tuesday, he described Ping's opposition coalition as "a gathering of witches" who "want to bring back the old system, the system of privileges." Ping and several of his top allies served in high-level positions under Omar Bongo.
Ping, meanwhile, has said an Ali Bongo victory would mean continued economic inequality that prevents ordinary citizens from benefiting from Gabon's oil wealth.
"You have before you two choices. Life and death. If he wins, you choose death. If we win, you choose life," Ping told supporters at a rally over the weekend.
Several Bongo opponents tried to get the president's candidacy annulled by the courts, claiming he was born in Nigeria and therefore ineligible to be president — a charge Bongo has dismissed as unfounded.
Friday marks the end of the campaign. More than 600,000 voters are registered to participate in Saturday's vote, and provisional results are expected early next week.