Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema voiced confidence yesterday he would extend his 30-year rule over the central African oil nation in a poll widely criticised for irregularities.
Obiang was quoted before the election as boasting he would match or better his 2002 score of 97.1%. He is seen pursuing his goal of transforming the tiny country of 650 000 into a major energy producer despite mounting human rights concerns.
Casting his vote in front of supporters and local media in the capital Malabo, the 67-year-old leader said he was convinced the majority of Equatorial Guineans backed his efforts.
"The people are satisfied with the work carried out by the government," he said, when asked whether he was confident of winning a new seven-year term.
A source close to the international observation mission noted that few if any foreign media had been allowed into the country to cover the election, while pro-democracy groups complained about the lack of media time given to rivals.
"In recent weeks it (the government) has stifled and harassed the country’s beleaguered political opposition (and) imposed serious constraints on international observers," New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement.
"Obiang is assured victory, perhaps even increasing upon his 2002 win," IHS Global Insight analyst Kissy Agyeman-Togobo Agyeman-Togobo said in a commentary of the vote.
Preliminary results were initially due late yesterday but a news conference to be held by the interior minister was cancelled. Final results could take several days to be known.
Earlier, a witness in Malabo said turnout appeared weak. Soldiers guarded polling stations, some of which had not seen any voters by late morning. Many streets were empty after a temporary ban on car travel was imposed this week.
Obiang came to power in a 1979 palace coup and has faced growing criticism that the country’s vast oil wealth has not improved the lot of its citizens.
The country was ranked 12th from bottom in this year’s survey of perceptions of corruption in 180 countries published by Berlin-based Transparency International.
While oil production has slipped from peaks of over 350 000 barrels per day as some fields mature, Obiang’s drive to turn Equatorial Guinea into a big energy player has met some success.
US firms such as Exxon Mobil have dominated the sector, but it has caught the eye of European energy firms such as Germany’s E.ON Ruhrgas and Spain’s Union Fenosa with plans to double natural gas exports in five years.
Yet despite his firm grip of the country, Obiang has faced several threats from abroad, including a 2004 coup attempt by mercenaries led by former British special forces officer Simon Mann. Earlier this year seaborne gunmen attacked his palace.