Most polling stations in the capital Libreville opened at 8:00am local time (07:00 GMT) under grey skies and light rain on Saturday.
Posters around Libreville were seen asking the country’s 680,000 voters to turn up to elect 143 new MPs, as well as other local officials.
A divided opposition is unlikely to mount a successful challenge to President Ali Bongo‘s ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG), opinion polls suggest. His key rival, Jean Ping, is boycotting the election, but most other opposition groups entered the contest in the oil-rich West African country.
Stanislas Bidoubi, 53-year-old shopkeeper, told the AFP news agency that he was backing an opposition party.
“I want change in my country,” said Bidoubi.
Turnout in Gabon elections is usually low, but early queues pointed to lively voter interest, at least in the centre of the capital.
“I’ve never missed an election,” said Rainatou Wagne.
“Even if there’s cheating in every African election, as a Gabonese citizen I prefer to vote,” she added.
The Bongo family has ruled Gabon for close to half a century and his controversial re-election in August 2016 by just a few thousand votes led Ping to claim that victory had been stolen from him.
Violence broke out and dozens of people were killed, according to the opposition, but the government says only four died.
Ping’s headquarters was bombed and the opposition also claimed that widespread human rights abuses were committed by armed men who took to the streets.
Before Saturday’s election that has been pushed back three times since 2016, the campaign was low key.
But on Saturday, some opposition candidates were pointing to alleged irregularities, saying that voting papers had gone missing, there had been attempts to buy votes, and their representatives had been denied access.
Political divisions run deep in the equatorial African nation, ruled by Omar Bongo from 1967 until his death in 2009, when his son Ali took over.
“I am not sure that this election will ease tensions because, since 2016, the country has been torn by a crisis that has divided families and changed the political scenario,” Wilson Andre Ndombet, a political analyst, said.