Equatorial Guinea’s iron-fisted president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, is eyeing a sixth term in office in elections on Sunday, extending a world-record 43 years in power.
Obiang, 80, seized power in August 1979, toppling his uncle, Francisco Macias Ngueme, who was then executed by firing squad.
Firmly suppressing dissent and surviving a string of attempted coups, he has remained at the helm of the oil-rich central African state ever since — a record for any leader alive today, excluding monarchs.
His extraordinary spell means that he is just the second president in Equatorial Guinea’s history since it gained independence in 1968 from Spain, its colonial power for nearly two centuries.
The upcoming vote will see Obiang in a race with two rivals, although few doubt the outcome. In 2016, he was re-elected with 93.7 percent of the vote.
Sunday’s presidential ballot was originally scheduled for April next year, but was brought forward to November 20, officially for cost reasons, so that it could be held at the same time with legislative, senatorial and local elections.
Pictures of Obiang and his Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE), the country’s single legal political movement until 1991, are splashed along every main street in the capital Malabo.
Opposition posters are frequently torn down or pasted over with a portrait of the president.
The PDGE’s slogan — “continuity” — dominates the state television TVGE, which gives live coverage to the president’s rallies and then replays them constantly.
The two other competitors are Andres Esono Ondo of the Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS), the sole authorised opposition party, and Buenaventura Monsuy Asumu of the Social Democratic Coalition Party (PCSD), a historic ally of the PDGE.
Esono Ondo, who is running for the first time, has branded the regime a “dictatorship” and contended that if the elections were “free and transparent, I could win.”
“We need political, democratic change here,” he said.
“There is much injustice here, the regime discriminates and the government governs only for the Obiang family.
The CPDS suggested holding an election debate with Obiang but the idea was swept aside by the president’s son and campaign manager, Vice President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mangue, widely known as Teodorin.
Obiang said he would not accept “debating with a party which isn’t even sure of being able to get one percent of the vote,” Teodorin said.
“Let him enjoy himself and debate with the goats,” he quipped.
Many people believe Teodorin is being groomed to succeed his father, and some had wondered whether the upcoming elections would be that moment.
But his image has been dented by a reputation for a jet-set lifestyle and scandals in western countries.
France, Britain and the United States have ordered him to forfeit millions of dollars in assets, from mansions to luxury cars, suspected to have been acquired illegally. In France, he was also handed a three-year suspended sentence and a fine of 30 million euros (dollars).
The runup to the elections has coincided with the closure of borders “to prevent the infiltration of groups who may try to destabilise the campaign,” and roundups of dissidents, accused of plotting attacks against western embassies and the homes of government ministers.
In the outgoing legislature, the PDGE controlled 99 out of the 100 seats in the National Assembly, and all the seats in the Senate.
Oil wealth is very unequally distributed — four fifths of the population of 1.4 million live below the poverty threshold according to World Bank figures for 2006, the latest available.
The country has an entrenched reputation internationally for graft, ranking 172 out of 180 nations on Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index.