Recent Elections: On April 24, President Obiang won a claimed 93.7 percent of the vote in presidential elections that were marred by reports of capricious application of election laws, nontransparent political funding, polling station irregularities, voter fraud, intimidation, and violence. Military personnel and PDGE representatives were present at all voting stations, while opposition representatives were present only at some. Procedures to protect ballot secrecy were disregarded. Photographs of the president remained on public buildings being used as polling stations. Some polling stations closed early with less than 100 percent voter turnout. In violation of the constitution--which requires that presidential elections be held no more than 45 days before or 60 days after the end of the prior presidential term--the election was held 136 days before the end of the president’s term.
In March the government denied the presidential candidacy of CI leader Gabriel Nse Obiang, claiming Nse Obiang had not met the five-year residency requirement mandated by law, although it approved the candidacy of Benedicto Obiang Mangue, leader of the PND, who had Spanish citizenship and resided in Spain. None of the three opposition candidates were from parties represented in the legislature, and critics claimed the three independent candidates (nonparty affiliated) were dummy candidates to provide legitimacy to the election. Some opposition political parties, including one represented in the legislature, chose to boycott the elections in protest.
In the months leading up to the presidential election, security forces violently dispersed opposition rallies and arrested demonstrators and opposition leaders.
In February, for example, police detained Wenceslao Mansogo, deputy head of the CPDS party, and authorities repeatedly detained presidential candidate Avelino Mocache, leader of the Union of Law Center. On April 22, military officials arrested, beat, and tortured CI activists and family members of CI party leader Gabriel Nse Obiang.
The government and the PDGE had an absolute monopoly of national media, leaving opposition political parties with no means to disseminate their message. The PDGE received hourly radio and television coverage before and during the campaign period while opposition parties received none. The PDGE was also able to cover the city in campaign posters and to give away smart phones, promotional cloth, and even cars at campaign events. Opposition events, by contrast, were shut down, and only two opposition billboards were allowed.
The National Electoral Commission (NEC) was stacked in favor of the ruling party. By law the NEC is composed of six judges appointed by the head of the Supreme Court, six government representatives and a secretary appointed by the president; and one representative from each registered political party. Since the president had ultimate authority over the judiciary, all key government employees were required to swear allegiance to the PDGE, and 12 of the 15 political parties--the PDGE and 11 coalition parties--voted as a bloc; only three of the NEC’s members represented the opposition.
The most recent legislative and municipal elections were held in 2013. The PDGE won 98.7 percent of seats in the House of Deputies and the newly created Senate. The opposition CPDS won a single seat in each chamber. The PDGE also won 98.1 percent of city council seats throughout the country. The lopsided results and weak independent monitoring of the electoral process raised suspicions of systematic fraud. The CPDS disputed the results publicly and filed a formal complaint with the NEC, but the government did not address its objections.
Political Parties and Political Participation: The PDGE ruled through a complex network of family, clan, and ethnic relationships. Public sector employees were pressured to join the PDGE and even to agree to have their salaries garnished to fund PDGE activities. The party’s near monopoly on power, funding, and access to national media hampered the country’s opposition parties--the CPDS, UP, Popular Action for Equatorial Guinea, and CI parties.
For example, during the year the PDGE conducted a national campaign with extensive media coverage in preparation for the 2016 elections. Opposition parties, however, had no access to media during this period, contravening the National Pact of 1993, the regulating framework for political parties that stipulates access to media and political financing and that provides for opposition political parties to have free weekly national radio and TV spots.
Political parties could receive both private and public funding but were not required to disclose the amount of private funding. In advance of the 2016 presidential elections, only the PDGE received public funding, and the amount was not publicly disclosed, as required by law.
The government subjected opposition members to arbitrary arrest and harassment.
Opposition members reported discrimination in hiring, job retention, and obtaining scholarships and business licenses. They also claimed the government pressured foreign companies not to hire opposition members. Businesses that employed citizens with ties to families, individuals, parties, or groups out of favor with the government reportedly were forced to dismiss those employees or face reprisals.
Registered opposition parties faced restrictions on freedom of speech, association, and assembly. For example, supporters who attended opposition political party campaign rallies were singled out for police interrogation and harassment. Some political parties that existed before the 1992 law establishing procedures to register political parties remained banned, allegedly for “supporting terrorism.”
Civil servants were removed for political reasons and without due process. In June both the executive and judicial branches were restructured, with party affiliation a key factor in obtaining government employment. The ruling party conducted a nationwide campaign, and government employees were required to support it to keep their positions.
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. The government generally restricted leadership positions in government to select PDGE members or members of a coalition of loyal parties that campaigned and voted with the PDGE.
In 2011 the government conducted and won a referendum to alter the constitution significantly. The amended constitution concentrates power in the hands of the president and allows President Obiang, who has ruled since 1979, to serve two more seven-year terms. (One of the amendments cancels the presidential age limit of 75 and institutes presidential term limits of two consecutive seven-year mandates, which became effective with the 2016 presidential election, when Obiang was almost 74.) Other amendments establish a senate, an Anticorruption Tribunal (all of whose members are appointed by the president), and a human rights ombudsman, nominated by parliament and ratified by the president. Neither the tribunal nor the human rights ombudsman was operational by year’s end, although the ombudsman had been sworn in. The amendments also create the post of vice president. In a move seen by many as an attempt to consolidate his power, the president appointed his son, Teodoro Obiang, as vice president after the April 24 election.
Participation of Women and Minorities: There are no laws limiting the participation of women in the political process, and women participated. Cultural factors, however, limited women’s political participation, especially in rural areas. Women occupied 10 of 75 Senate seats (including that of the Senate president) and 18 of 100 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. Three of the 25 cabinet members were women, one of the 13 delegate ministers was a woman, three of eight vice-ministers were women, and six of 37 secretaries of state were women. In May 2015 the president dissolved the entire judicial branch. The newly appointed Supreme Court continued to be an all-male institution.
The government did not overtly limit minority participation in politics, but members of the Fang ethnic group occupied the top ranks. The group, estimated to constitute 80 percent of the population, continued to exercise dominant political and economic power.