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Gabon: How An Ex-Referee Broke Promise to Serve for Just One-term….Then Still Earned Re-election As Football Boss

Anxiety filled the room as delegates held their breathe. The Gabon’s Independent Electoral commission played referee in the proceedings. Soon the suspense gave way to laud cheers with Pierre Alain Mounguengui cake-walking to the helm again.

It was a deserved sigh of relief for the 60-year-old and his hordes of faithful after months of fierce political campaign. Saturday’s event settles the dust that hovered the Central African nation’s Football House in the build-up to the congress. The poll did not end without a second round of voting. For Alain, it’s fresh new mandate won and continuation of projects started the last four years. But just how did the former international referee secure a mandate renewal in the midst of pockets of opposition candidates?

His glide to the hot-seat in 2014 was applauded as step in the right direction and Mounguengui lived up the billing by fronting The Panthers –the national team – campaign to return to the Africa Cup of Nations after the side failed to make it to the games in the final year of his predecessor’s reign. Perhaps overwhelmed by tremendous delight, Pierre, in his victory speech, dropped a bombshell, announcing he’ll be running for just one-term. All praised his ‘foresight’. In the weeks after this, columnists outdid one another in throwing superlatives at the man, labeling him an exemplary figure whose etiquette the continent’s dictators should emulate. This move didn’t turn Alain into a sacred cow but his staunchest critics were partially silenced and thus had little to say about the man. In the interim, Gabon’s national team fortunes rose for the better as Mounguengui total revamp touch of the football sector began to have an impact. The women’s game registered strides and the male national team jumped places up the FIFA Coco-cola standings in the first 12 months of his tenure as president. Although there was a slide drop in The Panthers’ performance the following year, it didn’t reach levels that could trigger up the alarm bells.

But expectations by this time were high from club delegates with not much support offered to Gabonese clubs competing in the Confederation Cup and Champions League. There is also the longing for improvement of domestic players’ salary still to be addressed. These shortfalls did not derail Alain’s development agenda even though some of his political rivals for the Fegafoot presidency had by now kick-started their efforts to drum up support for the forthcoming polls. In a bid to lay out a negative portrayal, his adversaries made incessant reference to his broken promise to serve just one-term.

Pierre had vowed to step his feet off the brakes at end of his first term but soon reversed his decision in a dramatic U-turn.

So much fuss followed later with analysts akin with Gabon football politics ruling out the incumbent ever securing re-election after breaking his promise with a football tabloid in Libreville slamming the decision a ‘disgrace.’

Strategy to depict the 60-year-old as the football guru who doesn’t keep his word, it was hoped, will sap his popularity.

Unabashed, and with many projects to accomplish, Mounguengui marched on putting his detractors to shame.

The erstwhile referee wooed voters almost with ease at last week’s congress. He sashayed over his arch rival, grabbing 16 while Jerome Efong Nzolo managed a decent 8 of the 35 votes. The three other candidates merely shared the crumbs of the votes.

Claims of Irregularity

Like in virtually all African polls, last weekend’s congress didn’t pass without the losing side making claims of electoral malpractices.

A number of candidates are weighing up contesting the election results through appeals possibly this week. The group, comprising largely losing candidates, claim AIain added some clubs without eligibility to vote to the voters’ list to bump up his numbers.

How true this is remains to be seen.

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