The 67-year-old leader is among five candidates competing to lead the West African nation, which ranks as one of the world’s most corrupt, according to Transparency International. New York-based Human Rights Watch has accused the government of human rights abuses. Security has been tightened in the country ahead of the vote.
The former Spanish colony, sub-Saharan Africa’s fourth- biggest oil producer, has been ruled by Obiang since 1979, when he seized power from his uncle in a coup. On Nov. 2, Obiang pardoned five mercenaries, including former British soldier Simon Mann, who were convicted of plotting to overthrow him in 2004.
In the last presidential election in 2002, Obiang took 97.1 percent of the vote, while his ruling Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea, or PDGE, and its allies won 99 out of 100 seats in a May 2008 parliamentary vote.
“Obiang is assured of victory and will perhaps even build upon his 2002 win,” Kissy Agyeman-Togobo, a London-based analyst at IHS Global Insight, said in an e-mailed note on Nov. 25. “There is no credible opposition to speak of, given the hegemony of the PDGE.”
This month’s election was originally scheduled to take place next year, before Obiang issued a decree announcing the new poll date on Oct. 16. While voter registration was completed in October, electoral lists still hadn’t been made public by mid-November, Human Rights Watch said in an e-mailed note on Nov. 25.
The opposition is also hampered by “skewed” coverage in government-controlled media and the “virtual absence” of a free press, it said.
“The government has ensured that the basic requirements for free and fair elections won’t be met,” Arvind Ganesan, director of the Business and Human Rights Program at Human Rights Watch, said in the note.
Security measures taken by the government include banning people from driving vehicles on voting day and preventing gatherings at polling stations, Interior Minister Clemente Engonga Nguema Onguene said in a statement read on state radio on Nov. 25.
“Any gathering of people that may prevent access to voting offices and weapons are prohibited,” he said. “Only security officers are authorized to carry weapons.”
In a separate note, Human Rights Watch said the government had imposed conditions on international election observers that will prevent independent monitoring. About 40 monitors from the African Union and the Economic Community of Central African States plan to observe the elections.
With a population of 500,000 and an $8.56 billion economy, Equatorial Guinea has Africa’s highest rate of gross domestic product per capita, at $7,470, according to the World Bank. At the same time, 70 percent of the population lives in poverty, medical coverage is poor, power distribution unreliable and water supply and sanitation systems dilapidated, according to the Web site of the African Development Bank.
Equatorial Guinea pumped about 361,000 barrels a day last year, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, ranking it behind Angola, Nigeria and Sudan among sub-Saharan African oil producers. Most of the investment in the nation’s oil industry comes from U.S.-based oil companies, including Exxon Mobil Corp., Marathon Oil Corp. and Vanco Energy Co.
Beyond this weekend’s election, Agyeman-Togobo said the focus will be on who succeeds Obiang at the next elections due by 2016. The main contender for the post is his son Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, known as Teodorin.
“Thus far, it appears that Obiang is inclined towards his eldest son, Teodorin, to succeed him,” she said. “But the weight of corroborating evidence against Teodorin and his use of public funds could stand against him.”
In 2007, the U.S. government began a probe of Teodorin’s purchases in the U.S., including a $35 million mansion, a $36 million jet and luxury cars worth at least $2.6 million, on suspicion that they were financed with funds derived “from extortion, theft of public funds or other corrupt conduct,” according to Human Rights Watch.
A 2004 U.S. Senate investigation into money laundering found that Washington-based Riggs Bank was holding as much as $750 million in accounts controlled by President Obiang, his family members or government officials. On at least two occasions, the bank accepted $30 million in suitcases.
No one answered the phone at Equatorial Guinea’s Agriculture Ministry, which Teodorin heads, when Bloomberg News called five different numbers at the ministry’s offices today in the capital, Malabo, to seek comment from him. Calls to Equatorial Guinea’s embassy in London weren’t answered.
An alternative to succeed Obiang is another of his sons, Armengol Ondo Nguema, Agyeman-Togobo said.
“But Obiang is likely to try to stifle questions about his succession as much as possible, in order to keep his authority as centralized as possible,” she said.
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