Longest serving Africa ruler seeks another term By Antoine Lawson LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Africa's longest serving president, Omar Bongo, is aiming to prolong his 38-year rule in elections in Gabon on Sunday that are seen as a one-sided contest against challengers who say it is high time for change. The 69-year-old veteran, who has headed the oil-producing Central African country since 1967, is seeking seven more years in power thanks to a 2003 constitutional amendment that removed any limits on how many times a president can be re-elected. Gabon President Omar Bongo is seen in Paris in this June 2005 file photo. (REUTERS/Charles Platiau) Bongo's re-election bid is supported by a powerful coalition of more than 40 political parties and analysts say his proven ability to dominate Gabonese politics and control the media makes him the clear favourite to win Sunday's polls. "The presidential majority is all-pervasive and nearly occupies the entire political field," sociologist Anacle Bissielo told Reuters. "Bongo wants to be president for life," said Libreville resident Eugene Mintsa, expressing a widely held view. The president's four challengers in Sunday's election include a former minister and close Bongo ally, Zacharie Myboto, who earlier this year joined the ranks of those who say the president's rule has lasted long enough. Myboto spent 23 years in Bongo's government before quitting in 2001, citing disagreements over policy. He formed the Gabonese Union for Democracy and Development party in April to tap into popular discontent over high poverty and unemployment that belie the nation's oil wealth. Oil accounts for at least 45 percent of Gabon's gross domestic product, 80 percent of its exports and more than half of its government revenue, according to International Monetary Fund figures for 2004. But Myboto and other critics say corruption, cronyism and inefficiency are rife under Bongo, whom they accuse of becoming increasingly authoritarian. Some openly call him a "dictator". "40 YEARS IS ENOUGH" "Forty years, that's enough" is the campaign slogan of Pierre Mamboundou, another prominent opposition candidate who lost heavily to Bongo in the last elections in 1998. The other challengers are Augustin Moussavou King of the Gabonese Socialist Party (PSG) and Serge Christian Maroga of the Rally of Democrats (RDD) party. Gabon, a former French colony, was ruled as a one-party state by Bongo until 1990, when, under public protest, he restored multi-party politics. The president was re-elected in the country's first pluralist elections in 1993. Wary of possible trouble, the government has banned electoral marches before Sunday's polls, saying they hindered traffic and threatened property. But rallies are permitted. Sensitivity to criticism, especially when made to foreign media, prompted Bongo to temporarily prohibit his opponents from travelling abroad in September. But the ban was later lifted. Bongo's son and likely successor, Defence Minister Ali Bongo, spearheaded the government propaganda offensive against his father's two main challengers, Mamboundou and Myboto. He has compared this three-way contest to the well-known cowboy Western film "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," portraying his father as the laconic but kind-hearted hero. But despite his dominant position as incumbent, the president has worked to mobilise his supporters. "A lot of money is being spent by the president ... donations are multiplying in the last minute so people vote for him," said Philippe Ndong, a teacher at Libreville University. Some 560,000 Gabonese are registered to vote out of population estimated at around 1.3 million. In what opponents say could provide an opportunity for ballot-rigging, members of the security forces are scheduled to vote on Friday, two days earlier than the main poll. They will be on duty on Sunday to ensure a peaceful election.