Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo faces challengers as he runs for a sixth term on Sunday, but critics see little hope for change in a country without any opposition.
Obiang has been in power for more than 43 years – the longest term of any head of state alive today except for monarchs.
Re-election seems certain in one of the most closed and authoritarian countries in the world.
In the run-up to Sunday’s elections, images of Obiang and his Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea, the country’s only legal political movement until 1991, were scattered across the capital, Malabo.
Running against him is Andres Esono Ondo, 61, of the country’s only opposition party that tolerates him.
Secretary General of Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS) is a first-time candidate and sole representative of pent-up opposition.
Ondo said he feared “fraud” would occur during the ballot, as voters would elect a president and members of parliament.
Malabo brought charges against the politician, in 2019 accusing him of planning a “foreign-financed coup in Equatorial Guinea”.
He was detained for 13 days in Chad that year because he hoped to attend a conference of the Chadian opposition.
The third candidate is Buenaventura Monsue Asomu of the Social Democratic Alliance party, a historical ally of Obiang’s ruling party.
The former minister is running for the fourth time, but he did not run in the previous elections.
The opposition accuses him of being a “false candidate” without a chance.
As in every election year, security forces have stepped up arrests in recent weeks.
State media justified the campaign as an attempt to counter a “failed plot” by the opposition to launch attacks on embassies, gas stations and ministers’ homes.
In September, after a siege of more than a week, security forces stormed the home of Gabriel Nse Obiang Obono, one of Obiang’s main opponents.
His home also served as the office for the outlawed Citizens for Innovation (CI) party.
The attack left five people dead – four activists and a policeman, according to Malabo.
Dozens were injured and more than 150 people were arrested, including Obono.
Prominent human rights activist Joaquín Elo Ito told AFP that the incident “distorted” the electoral process.
“The ruling party needs an ‘opposition’ to hold sham elections,” he said.
Allegations of fraud have plagued past polls. In 2016, Obiang was re-elected with 93.7 percent of the vote.
PDGE won 99 of the 100 seats in the House of Representatives, and all 70 seats in the Senate.
In 2009, the president received more than 95% of the vote.
Opposition members, most of whom are in exile, are not hoping for a breakthrough on Sunday.
“Obiang’s elections were never free or democratic, but they were marked by widespread and systematic fraud,” they said in a joint statement.
Although everyone had to vote, they urged “all citizens of Equatorial Guinea not to participate at any stage of the electoral process”.