Equatorial Guinea votes amid opposition complaints

The West African state of Equatorial Guinea voted on Sunday in elections expected to be won yet again by the veteran hardline president amid opposition charges of voting irregularities and harassment.

The oil-rich state went to the polls in local and general elections whose results were for observers a foregone conclusion, with the party of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema expected to win as he has in every previous poll since multiparty elections began in 1991.

Nguema has been in power for nearly 30 years, ruling with an iron fist, and incurring past criticism for alleged human rights abuses.

With an overall population of one million, about 278 000 people were eligible to vote.

But the opposition said it had registered many irregularities.

The opposition has already regularly denounced the results of past elections as fraudulent, but to no avail.

“Today’s elections are nothing but a repetition of what the government has always done,” said Placido Mico Abogon, secretary general of the opposition Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS) party after polling booths closed.

“They went just like the previous ones ... we recorded a series of arbitrary procedures in many polling stations,” he said.

“Ballot papers disappearedd from some polling stations, others were not replaced when they ran out. Our representatives had to put up with harassment,” he reported.

The CPDS is the country’s only true opposition party, with only two seats in Parliament.

Obiang seized power in a 1979 coup and his Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) has won every election since a multiparty system was introduced in 1991.

One hundred parliamentary seats and 230 municipal councillor posts were at stake on Sunday.

Casting his vote, Nguema himself said the most important factor in this election was turnout.

“That would mean that people have understood the concept of ‘emerging democracy’, which means training people in democratic practices,” he told journalists.

“I think our people are better practised at democracy ...
Our party has demonstrated its superiority during the election campaign, and I think the results of these elections will go the right way.”

Polling stations were guarded by soldiers brandishing AK-47 rifles, while international election observers monitored polling.

During the campaign, which does not appear to have aroused much public enthusiasm, large sums of money were handed out in the president’s name.

Cash and consumer goods, from satellite dishes to flat television screens, were distributed at electoral rallies.

In Ela Nguema, a working class district of the capital, about 20-million African francs (€30 000, $46 000) in banknotes were handed out, according to national radio and television.

While money was distributed at election meetings, candidates confined themselves to reading out the president’s “message” and policies.

State media reported that smaller parties had been given more than €1,1-million ($1,7-million) and luxury cars to campaign for “the expansion of Obiang Nguema Mbasogo’s work”.

But many voters expressed apathy and disillusion with an election the result of which was seen by critics as a foregone conclusion.

“There is nothing at stake in these elections: everyone knows the PDGE will win again with a large majority,” said Jose Mba, a market trader in Malabo.

Equatorial Guinea, a former Spanish colony, currently ranks as sub-Saharan Africa’s third crude oil producer and has had double digit economic growth for several years.

But the population enjoys little of the wealth thus generated. Most live in dire poverty and the country ranks 127th in the United Nations Development Programme’s human development index rankings. - AFP

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