The globe’s longest-serving president is eyeing a re-election to continue his 43-year rule in Equatorial Guinea.
Head of state Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, 80, has presided over a regime marked by alleged human rights abuses among them torture and disappearances.
A number of opposition candidates were also vying for the spot of president, but they are not expected to win.
For many years, the longest-serving president has had a strong grip on the oil-rich nation, with his family members in very key government roles.
His eccentric son, who currently serves as the nation’s Vice-President, Teodoro “Teodorin” Nguema Obiang Mangue, has enjoyed a lavish lifestyle in the US and Europe, and even owns an expensive crystal-covered glove once owned by Michael Jackson, according to the UK authorities.
According to Professor Ana Lúcia Sá, the “elections are merely cosmetic”.
“Nothing will change,” Professor Sá, who specialises in politics and authoritarian African regimes at the University Institute of Lisbon, said, adding that she was “sure Obiang will be elected with more than 95%” of the vote.
The sentiments are echoed by activist Tutu Alicante, who told Reuters news agency: “On Sunday people will cast the vote the government expects them to, because you cannot freely speak up your mind in Equatorial Guinea.”
“The opposition does not stand a chance,” Mr Alicante continued. “He is going to do whatever it takes not to leave power.”
In the Central African nation, political opposition is barely tolerated. It is also severely hampered by the lack of a free press, as all broadcast media is either owned outright by the government or controlled by its allies.
It is thought that President Obiang, who has previously denied rights abuses and election rigging, is seeking to clean up his international reputation. In September, the government abolished the death penalty, in a move which was praised by the UN.
POVERTY, A ‘POLITICAL WEAPON’
President Obiang, who has survived several coup attempts, grabbed power of the oil-rich West African nation in 1979 after a military takeover. On taking office from his predecessor and uncle, Francisco Macias Nguema, he made some reforms, but retained Nguema’s absolute control over the nation.
His uncle, whose rule saw thousands of deaths and a mass exodus from Equatorial Guinea, was later executed.
The incumbent president Obiang has managed to maintain his grip on power due to controlling “the rules of the political game” Professor Sá said, adding that he uses the poverty of the nation as a “political weapon”.
At the same time, “electoral laws were conceived to make sure Obiang will never lose power,” she commented.
The nation has a history of what critics refer to as fraudulent election results. In 2022, officials said that President Obiang won over 97% of the vote in presidential elections in December 2002. Opposition candidates withdrew from the poll, citing fraud and irregularities.
Similar results were also reported in the 2009 and 2016 elections.
There have been accusations of corruption levelled against the Obiang regime, after his son Teodorin Obiang was fined in a French court for using public money to fund a luxurious lifestyle in the European nation. Mr Obiang’s French assets have since been seized.
The vice-president, who is set to succeed his father, was also sanctioned by the UK under an anti-corruption drive in 2021.
Vice-President Obiang has denied wrongdoing. President Obiang himself has also previously denied allegations of corruption.
Over 300,000 voters were registered to take part in Sunday’s vote.
ABOUT EQUATORIAL GUINEA
Spanish Guinea gained independence in 1968 and became the Republic of Equatorial Guinea with Francisco Macias Nguema as president.
According to rights groups, the country’s two presidents – Francisco Macias Nguema and President Teodoro Obiang Nguema – are some of the worst rights abusers in Africa.
The Spanish, French and Portuguese-speaking country discovered vast oil reserves in 1996, but much of the 1.4 million population has not benefited from this, with poverty still rampant.