The president of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has been in power for 43 years, is seeking a sixth term on Sunday with the assurance of being re-elected to lead one of the world’s most closed and authoritarian regimes.
The election coincides with legislative, senatorial and municipal elections, which his Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) is expected to win by a wide margin as usual.
At 80, Mr. Obiang holds the world record for longevity in power for a head of state still alive, outside the monarchy. He was re-elected in 2016 with 93.7% of the vote for a new seven-year term.
The head of state took power in a coup in 1979 in this small oil-rich central African country, independent from Spain since 1968, overthrowing his uncle and bloodthirsty dictator Francisco Macias Nguema, whom he had shot two months later.
Last September, Mr Obiang abolished the death penalty but his regime is regularly accused by international NGOs and Western capitals of violently repressing all opposition and flouting human rights, as well as for the extent of corruption.
For the legislative elections, the PDGE, which holds 99 of the 100 seats in the outgoing National Assembly, and all of the seats in the Senate, is leading a coalition of 14 satellite parties.
For the presidential election, Teodoro Obiang will face two candidates: Andrès Esono Ondo, for the Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS), the only opposition party that is not banned, and Buenaventura Monsuy Asumu of the Social Democratic Coalition Party (PCSD), a micro-movement previously allied with the PDGE in the legislative elections.
On Sunday, 427,661 Equatoguineans will be called to the polls.
– “Debating with goats” –
The third richest country in sub-Saharan Africa in terms of GDP per capita in 2021 according to the World Bank, most of its wealth remains concentrated in the hands of a few families.
In the absence of recent data on the country, the Bretton Woods institution estimated in 2006 that nearly 80% of the population lived below the poverty line (less than 1.9 dollars per day per capita).
There is no indication that the situation of 1.4 million Equatoguineans has improved today, after the drop in oil revenues from 2014, the recent Covid-19 pandemic and the economic consequences of the war in Ukraine.
The colours of the PDGE dominate Malabo, the capital. Portraits, banners, posters and logos adorn the city’s main streets as far as the eye can see. The opposition’s campaign posters, on the other hand, are reduced to a minimum and are regularly torn down or covered by portraits of President Obiang, all smiles.
The state media broadcast a loop of portraits of the head of state and the slogan “Continuity” of the PDGE, the only party until 1991. Mr Obiang’s rallies are broadcast live on state television (TVGE) and replayed at the expense of those of his opponents.
“If the elections are free and transparent, I can win,” said Mr Esono Ondo, accusing the regime of organising “massive fraud”. “The regime discriminates and the government governs only for the Obiang family,” the candidate said, referring to a “dictatorship”.
He was refused a televised debate with the president-candidate, who will not talk to a “candidate who is not even sure of getting 1% of the vote”, said his vice-president son Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mangue. “He said he would have fun debating with goats,” concluded the regime’s all-powerful number two, nicknamed Teodorin, and his father’s campaign manager.
– Repression –
Shortly before Mr Obiang declared himself a candidate again in September, speculation that his son would succeed him as the PDGE’s presidential candidate had gained momentum because of his ubiquitous presence on the political scene for the past two years.
But the latter may have suffered from his reputation as a publicly assumed jet-setter and accusations of corruption in France, the United Kingdom and the United States, PDGE officials said on condition of anonymity at the party’s last congress in late 2021.
For several weeks, as before each election, the police have been conducting a ruthless campaign of arrests of opponents on the grounds, according to the regime, that they have foiled an opposition “plot” to carry out “attacks” against “Western embassies and the homes of ministers”.
The European Union recently considered it “crucial” to ensure “the conditions for a peaceful, inclusive and transparent election and respect for the rule of law by the authorities”.