Recent Elections: In 2009 President Obiang was reelected with a claimed 95.4 percent of votes cast; opposition candidate Placido Mico of the Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS) party won 3.6 percent of the vote. The lopsided results and weak independent monitoring of the electoral process raised suspicion of systematic voting fraud. The government’s insistence on coordinating the movements of election observers, prohibition on criticism of the elections, and control of media access limited the participation of international election observers to a small percentage of 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, and there were reports they intimidated voters.
In October 2009 President Obiang announced the election would occur the following month. 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, was charged with ensuring the fairness of elections and handling formal postelection complaints; however, the commission was controlled by the ruling party. The interior minister, a prominent party member, headed the commission, and the majority of commission members were also members of the ruling party. While its membership included a representative of each political party that fielded candidates, the commission lacked civil society representation and included representatives from the government. The opposition CPDS party claimed 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. Unlike in previous elections, no opposition members were arbitrarily arrested, detained, or tortured, but opposition candidates were harassed and intimidated during the presidential campaign. The government denied the opposition equal access to the media, and several peaceful political parties banned in prior years were not allowed to participate in the elections. Opposition members and leaders also claimed the government monitored their activities. Opposition parties and their candidates generally were poorly organized and inadequately financed.
Political Parties: The PDGE party ruled through a complex arrangement built around family, clan, and ethnic loyalties. Indirect pressure for public employees to join the PDGE continued. The ruling party’s virtual monopoly on power, funding, and access to national media hampered the country’s two primary opposition parties--the CPDS and UP. Opposition members were subject to arbitrary arrest and harassment and continued to report being 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 having 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.
Legal opposition parties faced restrictions on freedom 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 the government were restricted to selected members of the president’s party or the coalition of loyal opposition parties.
In November 2011 the government convoked and won a referendum to significantly alter the constitution. The amended constitution concentrates power in the hands of the president and allows President Obiang, who has been in power for 33 years, to serve another 19 years. (One of the amendments cancels the presidential age limit of 75 and institutes presidential term limits of two consecutive seven-year mandates, which become effective in the 2016 presidential election, when Obiang turns 74.) Other amendments establish a senate and anticorruption tribunal court, some of whose members are appointed by the president, and a human rights ombudsman, also appointed by the president. The amendments also create the post of vice president. Following the referendum, President Obiang created a second vice presidential slot in charge of defense and national security, a position not provided for in the constitution. In a move widely viewed as a further attempt to consolidate power, Obiang appointed his eldest son Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue to the post.
The government claimed the referendum passed with 97.7 percent of the vote. The text of the proposed amendments was made public only two weeks before the vote, preventing the opposition from mobilizing against it. Opponents of the reforms were not allowed to present their case in the government-controlled media (see section 2.a.) Apart from foreign diplomats at several polling stations outside Malabo, no independent observers monitored the referendum. According to international NGOs and local opposition parties, vote fraud, harassment of opposition supporters, and intimidation of voters occurred. There were scattered confrontations between regime authorities and opposition activists in Bata.
Participation of Women and Minorities: Women constituted 8 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. The government did not overtly limit participation of minorities in politics; however, the predominant Fang ethnic group, estimated to constitute 85 percent of the population, continued to exercise dominant political and economic power.