Equatorial Guinea leader looks to extend decades-long rule

AP News
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Posted: Apr 24, 2016 10:34 AM

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang, Africa's longest-serving leader and the world's longest-serving non-royal head of state, is expected to dominate an election Sunday for a new term that could take his reign past the four-decade mark.

Obiang, 73, assumed power in the oil-producing Central African nation following a military coup in 1979 and the government has promised a "successful" vote with "maximum transparency."

However, human rights groups and critics accuse him of overseeing a deeply corrupt government that represses and tortures opponents. Last month, groups including Human Rights Watch and Freedom House issued a statement condemning the silencing of civic activists in the run-up to Sunday's vote in the former Spanish colony.

There appear to be six opponents competing against Obiang although several are political unknowns and could be pawns used by the government to create the illusion of a contest, said Tutu Alicante, a government critic and executive director of the Washington-based rights group EG Justice.

Although Equatorial Guinea officially transitioned to multiparty democracy in the early 1990s, Obiang has never received less than 95 percent of the vote and Sunday's poll isn't likely to be any different, Alicante said.

"This is going to be business as usual for Obiang," he said.

The ruling party holds all but one seat in both chambers of the legislature. The Convergence for Social Democracy, the opposition party that holds one seat in both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, is boycotting Sunday's vote.

Obiang's opponents have no funding or media access and the electoral commission isn't independent, said Andres Esono Ondo, secretary general of the Convergence for Social Democracy, in an email to The Associated Press.

"My expectations for this presidential election are bad. They are not going to produce any positive change in the country, neither politically nor economically," Esono Ondo said.

The international community needs to put the rights situation in Equatorial Guinea on its agenda and pressure Obiang to engage in genuine political dialogue with the opposition, he said.

"The international community must realize that political conflicts are easier to prevent than to solve once they've erupted," he said.

A constitutional referendum in Equatorial Guinea in 2011 limited presidents to two seven-year terms, but the rule doesn't apply retroactively.

There is widespread speculation Obiang intends to be succeeded by his son, Teodorin, who has a reputation for extravagant spending on Michael Jackson collectors' items and other luxuries. Teodorin, currently one of the country's vice presidents, has been the subject of legal action in France and the U.S. targeting ill-gotten gains. In 2014, he struck a deal with the U.S. requiring him to turn over $31.3 million in assets including a Malibu mansion and a Ferrari.