LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Gabon's President Ali Bongo Ondimba has asked a court to rule on whether the central African oil nation can delay legislative elections by a year to allow it to focus on staging January's Africa Cup of Nations (CAN).
Parliament's mandate expires in January, requiring elections by this December. But Bongo's ruling majority and the opposition say it is unrealistic to try to organise the poll then given that the high-profile soccer tournament takes place weeks later. Because the election will require the costly introduction of biometric voter cards to ensure against fraud, most political leaders say it would be better to delay the vote till 2012.
"Good arguments have been put forward (for a delay), yet there is a major inconvenience regarding the legality of this which I do not want to ignore," Bongo said after cross-party talks late on Monday, adding he had sought a ruling from the country's Constitutional Court.
At present, elections under the Gabonese constitution can only be delayed on the grounds of "force majeure" -- generally interpreted as unavoidable catastrophes. Gabon, which is seeking to diversify its economy to wean it off its dwindling oil exports, will jointly host the CAN with Equatorial Guinea. It is one of the few sub-Saharan nations to have a traded Eurobond.
The cost of producing biometric voter cards for the country of about 1.5 million in time for a poll later this year had been estimated at around 60 billion CFA francs, money which has not been accounted for in the 2011 budget.
Ali Bongo succeeded his long-serving father Omar in 2009 in a presidential election which the opposition said was flawed.