Campaigning for the upcoming legislative elections in Equatorial Guinea officially started today, and the government’s Press and Information Office took the opportunity to portray the electoral climate inside the country in a positive light. It published a story on its website that featured statements made by President Obiang during a recent visit to the United States. Speaking to the press, he touted “improvements” to Equatorial Guinea’s electoral process, and cited as evidence a U.S. Department of State human rights report that found the 2008 legislative elections were “peaceful, orderly and better.” What Obiang omitted from his public statement, however, was that the report went on to find there were “credible reports and evidence of electoral irregularities, and allegations by the opposition of fraud and harassment of opposition supporters.”

As noted in a joint statement from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and EG Justice, there are still numerous human rights violations being committed in the lead-up to the legislative elections. A snapshot of Equatorial Guinea in 2013 reveals:

  • Members of opposing political parties are still being harassed, intimidated, and subjected to arbitrary detention.
  • Media outlets are state-owned and/or operated by government officials; thus depriving critics the opportunity to reach the masses. (Equatorial Guinea remains one of the lowest-ranked countries in the world for press freedom.)
  • Election observers will be heavily restricted.

On top of all these issues, the political process continues to be biased toward the ruling political party, PDGE. Plácido Micó, Secretary-General of CPDS, one of two political parties opposing the PDGE, stated in a recent interview that “as little as two days before the start of the political campaign, the opposition parties had not received the state-sponsored funding that allows them to participate in election campaigning. Yet, the PDGE had containers full of campaign materials, worth almost 10 million USD, at its disposal.” Without an even playing field, the voters in Equatorial Guinea are unable to make an informed choice at the ballot box.

Furthermore, the body in charge of the vote and subsequent tally (the National Electoral Commission), is headed by Clemente Engonga, a top PDGE official and First Deputy Prime Minister. Without a professional, non-partisan electoral commission, fair elections in Equatorial Guinea are impossible.

Instead of blanket assertions about reforms, President Obiang needs to identify the specific “improvements” his government has introduced and highlight how these represent a departure from the past. The ability to handpick and appoint 15 members of the newly established Senate (the focus of the upcoming elections) cements the system of nepotism that has characterized his regime, rather than signifying an improvement. His new constitutionally increased power to control the judiciary further entrenches the status quo, rather than improving that important state institution or the people’s faith in it. What is clear, however, is that whatever improvements President Obiang was referring to are most likely not in the best interests of the people of Equatorial Guinea.