Gabon president defends constitutional change after parliament gives okay
Libreville - Gabonese President Ali Bongo on Wednesday defended a plan to change the constitution after the fiercely-contested draft cleared a key hurdle.
Parliament on Wednesday approved a raft of changes that the opposition has slammed as a power grab, and the draft now goes to the constitutional court for its approval.
Under the changes, the president will "determine the policy of the nation," whereas the previous text stated only that he or she would govern "in consultation with the government".
Rejecting an opposition campaign to limit Bongo's time in office, the new constitution like its predecessor sets no restrictions on the amount of times the president can be re-elected.
However, it introduces a two-round voting system, something the opposition had demanded.
In a meeting with foreign diplomats on Thursday, Bono said "the constitutional overhaul... has just been adopted by parliament, meeting in a congress.
Reputation for corruption
"It is in this context that legislative elections... will be organised, demonstrating the vitality of our democracy and the sealing the political cohesion of our nation."
The main opposition has said the country is in a grave political crisis and called the revised text an attempt to establish "a permanent elected president in power".
Bongo, whose family is tarred by a reputation for corruption, was controversially re-elected in 2016 by just a few thousand votes in a poll the opposition said was rigged.
His presidency followed on from his late father, Omar Bongo, who ruled for more than four decades until his death in 2009.
The specific content of the changes only emerged on Thursday as the constitutional text was not made public during parliamentary debates.
Opposition leader Jean Ping has said the proposed constitutional changes were "autocratic" and liable to violate the principle of separation of powers.
Legislative elections were due to have taken place in December 2016 but have been postponed twice. The latest date given for them is April this year.
Gabon is a major oil producer and has mineral and tropical timber resources, but about a third of its 1.8 million population still live below the poverty line.