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Equatorial Guinea's Ruling Party, Allies Win Overwhelming Election Victory - 2004-05-05

The ruling party in Equatorial Guinea and its allies have won nearly a total victory in last month's parliamentary and local elections. Outside observers say the elections were not free.

Results released late Tuesday give the ruling Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea and a group of parties supporting President Teodoro Obiang Nguema's policies 98 out of 100 seats in the new single-chamber legislature.

These parties also won all but seven of 244 municipal councilor posts.

Election officials said voter turnout at the April 25 poll was 95 percent. They said the vote was free and fair, and that transparent ballot boxes were used to avoid ballot stuffing.

But a British-based Africa analyst, Alex Vines, who was invited to monitor the vote, but did not because the invitation came too late, says the elections took place in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.

He says, after an alleged coup attempt against President Obiang was thwarted in March, state security agents went to opposition strongholds warning people to vote for the ruling party. Opposition parties, he says, were given little freedom to campaign.

Mr. Vines says the lack of democracy should be worrisome to oil companies increasingly investing in Equatorial Guinea, currently Africa's third biggest oil producer behind Nigeria and Angola.

"They want consistency in production," he said. "That's what their shareholders are after, and in those terms, a more open transparent government in Equatorial Guinea with a clear democratic process of change would be, I think, in the interest of the companies, rather than a country that has a reputation of very little democracy, which, in turn, fosters the sort of issues, such as the coup attempt, that we've just seen recently was attempted in Equatorial Guinea."

Fifteen suspected mercenaries were arrested in the capital Malabo March. Another 70 mercenaries allegedly connected to the same plot were detained in Zimbabwe on the same day.

Another British-based researcher, Chris Melville, who analyzes African oil-producing nations for the World Markets Research Center, says President Obiang also faces threats from within the ruling elite.

"In spite of their infighting and the internecine warfare that seems to take place between members of the regime from time to time, they are still quite good at pulling together at potentially dangerous times," he said. "It's as if they understand that the most important thing for them to do is to survive as a group, and they can settle their personal differences later. So, I think over the next couple of months, while the new parliament is instituted, however irrelevant it will be, the rivalries will probably quiet down for a time, only to re-surge at a later date."

President Obiang came to power in a coup in 1979 that toppled his uncle, who was then executed. He has been accused of widespread corruption and of stashing billions of dollars into foreign bank accounts. He denies accusations of any wrongdoing.