Gabon’s political crisis deepened on Thursday after the postponement of a planned mission by the African Union (AU) to mediate between two opposing candidates who both claim to have won last month’s presidential election.
Election results announced last week showed incumbent Ali Bongo beating his main rival, Jean Ping, by fewer than 6,000 votes in the oil-producing West African nation, sparking days of riots in which at least six people were killed.
Ping, a veteran diplomat, has contested the results, though it was not immediately clear on Thursday evening whether he had filed a formal request to the constitutional court for an official vote recount by a 1500 GMT deadline. Ping has previously said he doubted the court’s neutrality.
Gabon’s Foreign Minister Emmanuel Issoze Ngondet said the AU mission, scheduled to arrive in Libreville on Friday, had been postponed till further notice because its head, Chad’s President Idriss Deby, was “tired” after attending a summit in China.
There was no immediate comment from Chad or the African Union. Some analysts have questioned whether Deby, one of Africa’s “big men” in power since 1990, will push for a recount.
Bongo, whose family has ruled Gabon for nearly a half century, is under increasing international pressure to allow a recount, though he has said that is a matter for the courts.
France, the former colonial power which has a military base and substantial business interests in Gabon, has urged a recount.
“France considers that a transparent, impartial examination of the results of the presidential election is a condition for ending the crisis as it’s the only way to establish the sincerity of the result incontestably,” French foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said.
International criticism of the election has focused on the results from Bongo’s stronghold, the province of Haut-Ogooue, where the participation rate was more than double that of other regions and showed that 95.46 percent of voters backed Bongo.
The European Union has said it found anomalies in the results from Haut-Ogooue.
As well as its military base, France has about 14,000 nationals based in Gabon and, through its oil giant Total , a large stake in the country’s oil sector, which produces 200,000 barrels per day.
But Paris has ruled out intervening in Gabon’s post-electoral crisis as it has done before in its former colonies, saying it is up to Africans to resolve it.
Critics of Bongo, who won a disputed election in 2009 after the death of his long-ruling father Omar Bongo, say he has not done enough to redistribute oil wealth beyond a small elite.
Ping, a life-long political insider and former African Union Commission chairman, was a close ally of President Omar Bongo but fell out with his son and resigned from the PDG in 2014. He has fathered two children with Ali Bongo’s sister Pascaline.