Recent Elections: In 2009 President Obiang was reelected, winning a claimed 95.37 percent of votes cast; opposition candidate Placido Mico of the CPDS won 3.55 percent of the vote. The lopsided results and weak independent monitoring of the electoral process raised the suspicion of systematic voting fraud. The government’s insistence on coordinating the movement of election observers, prohibition on criticism of the elections, and control of media access to cover the elections limited the participation of international election observers at the 1,289 polling stations. Procedural irregularities at some polling stations included multiple voting, failure to respect secrecy of the vote, and the absence of a posted list of registered candidates. At some stations family voting was allowed, unregistered voters were allowed to vote, and ballot boxes were unsealed. Soldiers were deployed to all polling stations.
In October 2009 President Obiang announced the election would be on November 29, with campaigning to begin officially on November 5. According to Human Rights Watch, the tight election timetable and the government’s refusal to make the voter rolls public severely limited the opposition’s ability to campaign and win support. The voter registration process was seriously flawed. The registration committee was composed primarily of PDGE members and routinely decided issues in favor of the PDGE. When registering a PDGE member, the committee registered all members of the family as PDGE voters, including children. Persons who were dead or underage were included as PDGE registrants.
No independent and impartial body existed to oversee the electoral process or consider election-related complaints. The National Electoral Commission, which was separate from the voter registration committee and charged with ensuring the fairness of the elections and handling formal post-election complaints, was controlled by the ruling party and headed by the interior minister, a prominent member of the party. While its membership included a representative of each political party that fielded candidates, it also included representatives from the government and lacked civil society representation. In addition, a majority of its members were ruling party officials. The opposition CPDS party claimed that one of its electoral officials was forced with a pistol held to his head to approve a vote count.
Opposition party members and candidates operated at a significant disadvantage when attempting to gain voter support. On the whole, opposition parties and their candidates were poorly organized, inadequately financed, and unsupported by the public. Several peaceful political parties banned in recent years were not allowed to participate in the elections. The government denied the opposition equal access to the media. Opposition members and leaders also claimed the government monitored their activities.
Unlike in previous elections, no opposition members were arbitrarily arrested, detained, or tortured, but opposition candidates were harassed and intimidated during the presidential campaign.
Political Parties: The ruling PDGE party ruled through a complex arrangement built around family, clan, and ethnic loyalties. Indirect pressure for public employees to join the PDGE continued. Opposition party members continued to report they had been discriminated against in hiring, job retention, scholarships, and obtaining business licenses. Opposition members contended government pressure precluded them from obtaining jobs with foreign companies. Opposition party members claimed businesses found to have hired employees with direct links to families, individuals, parties, or groups out of favor with the government often were forced to dismiss those employees or face reprisals.
On January 27, the government appointed four deputy prime ministers from opposition parties. At least two serving ministers were also from the opposition.
The legal opposition parties faced restrictions on freedoms of speech, association, and assembly (see sections 2.a. and 2.b.). Some political parties that existed before the 1992 law establishing procedures to legalize political parties remained banned, generally for “supporting terrorism.”
The president exercised strong powers as head of state, commander of the armed forces, head of the judiciary, and founder and head of the ruling party. In general, leadership positions within government were restricted to the president’s party or the coalition of “loyal opposition” parties. On November 13, the government held a popular vote on a constitutional referendum to limit the president to two seven-year terms and create a vice president, a second chamber of the legislature, an anticorruption body, and a “Defender of the People” to serve as a human rights ombudsman. The referendum passed with 97.7 percent support. The margin of the positive vote and the lack of any credible oversight of the voting process raised doubts about the legitimacy of the referendum. International NGOs and local opposition parties claimed that the process was marred by reports of voting fraud, harassment of opposition supporters, and intimidation of voters. There were scattered confrontations between regime authorities and opposition activists in the continental city of Bata.
Because the ruling party overwhelmingly dominated the commissions established to review electoral practices and recommend reforms, few changes were made.
Participation of Women and Minorities: The government did not overtly limit participation of minorities in politics; however, the predominant Fang ethnic group, estimated to constitute more than 85 percent of the population, continued to exercise strong political and economic power. Women constituted more than 10 percent of the 100-member parliament, including its vice president. There were two women in the 22 member cabinet, and four of the 24 vice ministers were women.