News / Africa

Equatorial Guinea Opposition Cries Foul Over Constitutional Vote

Equatorial Guinea's long-time, autocratic President Teodoro Obiang Nguema (file photo)
Equatorial Guinea's long-time, autocratic President Teodoro Obiang Nguema (file photo)
Nico Colombant

Opposition to Equatorial Guinea's long-time, autocratic President Teodoro Obiang Nguema are crying foul, both inside and outside the country. This comes after the government said early results give clear passage to constitutional reforms submitted to voters on Sunday.  The changes would strengthen the oil-rich country's presidency.  

The main opposition leader in Equatorial Guinea Placido Mico called his government, in his words, "one of the most irrational dictatorships."
He said results which are being released by the government were prepared before any voting took place.

Another opposition leader, from the same small party the Convergence for Social Democracy, Pablo Mba Nsang, alleged there was ballot stuffing. He said pro-government voters had gone to the polls repeatedly, and had voted for others, including dead relatives.

Government officials say that so far, with more than three-fifths of the votes counted, 99 percent of voters backed the proposed constitutional changes.
The officials did not immediately respond to the accusations of irregularities. They called the vote peaceful.  Prior to the vote, government officials said the proposed changes were meant to put Equatorial Guinea on a path to greater democracy.

Voting results with more than 95 percent of votes for President Obiang and his ruling Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea have been the norm in recent elections.  Mr. Obiang has been in power since a coup in 1979, making him Africa's longest-serving leader.

Human rights activist Joseph Kraus from the U.S.-based group Equatorial Guinea Justice says he fears the constitutional changes will make it more difficult to implement democracy.

"The reforms are effectively switching the governmental system from a parliamentary system to a presidential system," said Kraus. "[President] Obiang would have the authority to directly appoint the vice-president. It would also make him the head of a judicial body that would actually oversee the entire court system and he would be the head of that body which effectively erases any effort or any chance that there would be any checks and balances between the three branches of government."

The reforms also would establish a two-term limit on the presidency, but Kraus is afraid the 69-year-old Obiang will use the new changes as an opportunity to seek two more terms after his current one expires in 2016.   He also fears the president's son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, currently the agricultural minister, will eventually be chosen as vice-president.

Despite the current frustrations, Kraus says he and others at Equatorial Guinea Justice, including exiled activists, will continue their work for human rights, good governance and more civic participation.

"Given that there is a lack of independent media inside the country and that the government is very repressive and does not allow opposition voices to speak very loudly, we are positioned outside the country and we are able to actually push foreign governments as well as enable civil society activists on the ground inside the country to pressure President Obiang and his government for better governance," he said.

Investigations into allegedly misspent Equatorial Guinean government money are currently taking place in France, Spain and the United States.  
Despite the country's 15-year oil boom and the rise of average per capita income to above $18,000 annually, there is still widespread poverty in the former Spanish colony.  The United Nations says that less than half the population have access to clean drinking water.

Final results from Sunday's referendum are expected to be released Wednesday.

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