Opposition Party Boycotts Presidential Elections

Opposition Party Boycotts Presidential Elections

EG Justice April 18, 2016
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Ahead of the April 24 presidential Elections, suddenly and unilaterally convened by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, EG Justice reached out to Andrés Esono Ondo, Secretary General of Convergencia Para la Democracia Social (CPDS, Convergence for Social Democracy), the main political opposition party in Equatorial Guinea, to discuss the upcoming elections and shed light on the irregularities seen so far in the electoral process.

EG Justice (EGJ):  What is the political environment in Equatorial Guinea ahead of the elections?

Andrés Esono Ondo (AEO):The atmosphere feels completely cold.  For example in the largest cities like Malabo and Bata you can’t see the euphoria that an election campaign would usually bring. Very few people attended the launch of President Obiang’s campaign held at Malabo Sports Center on April 8. Many of the stadium stands were empty and people had been brought from the villages and towns in the island. I would also emphasize the pressure the Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) is exerting on the population; pressure directed mainly against opposition activists to get them to desert their political parties and join the ruling party. This is a common operation, but it is often accentuated during elections. Convergencia Para la Democracia Social (CPDS, Convergence for Social Democracy) jointly decided with the other member-parties of the Democratic Opposition Front (FOD) to abstain from the April 24 presidential elections, which has caused an increased nervousness among the leaders of the PDGE.

EGJ:  What led to CDPS’ decision to abstain from the upcoming elections?

AEO:First, we made that decision because of the unlawfulness of the timing of the election. Under the Constitution, presidential elections must be held 45 days before the expiration of the President’s mandate or 70 days after that date at the latest. Thus, the current presidential election should have been held between October 2016 and February 2017.

The list of registered voters was full of irregularities, as it included absent people, non-residents, and minors. On March 9, we asked President Obiang to provide the opposition with detailed lists of registered voters, so our party could corroborate such data, particularly in those areas where we had serious suspicions of irregularities. We were denied access to the list and only received aggregate numbers, which we could not use to verify questionable data.

Furthermore, the main reason for not participating is that President Obiang refuses to implement an independent electoral institution.  This already exists in many other African countries. In 2011, President Obiang signed the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, which requires free and transparent elections with independent electoral bodies. However, this Charter has yet to enter into effect, as Parliament Has not ratified it. 

EGJ: Were there any irregularities with the list of registered voters?

AEO:Obiang has banned the opposition in the Mongomo district where 38,000 voters were registered inexplicably, and whose votes are reserved in full for the candidate of the Partido Democrtatico de Guinea Ecuatorial (PDGE, Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea). Besides, the nearly 20,000 members of the Armed Forces and State Security will cast their votes on April 23, one day ahead to the rest of the population, and in polling stations located inside military barracks.

Also, the votes of the more than 8,000 Equatoguineans registered at embassies and consulates abroad will be handed to Obiang, since the opposition would not be able to take any part in the counting process. Ultimately, all of these shenanigans give the PDGE an advantage of more than 66,000 votes in a single round of the simple majority electoral system.

EGJ: What about access to the media and other resources?

AEO:The state and private media (TV-radio) are at the sole and exclusive service of the government and the ruling party. Obiang continues to deny the opposition parties access to the media, in clear violation of the law.

By the time the election was announced, there was already a boatload of PDGE’s campaign material at the Luba port. The government only gave a symbolic sum of money to other parties, three days before the start of the election campaign.

Also, for the first time in our history, the elections will transpire with the presence of foreign military forces, specifically from Zimbabwe, without an explanation or justification from the government about this move.

In an election held with so much injustice and arbitrariness, there is little real hope for democratic change through the ballot box.

EGJ: Would it have changed anything if elections were not moved up to April?

AEO:Even if elections were celebrated in the legally established date, CPDS would not have participated without a reliable list of registered votes, without an independent electoral body, and without access to the media.

EGJ: How has the population responded to CPDS’ abstention?

AEO: CPDS’ decision to boycott the elections has been largely applauded, not only by party members but also by the general public. In fact, most registered voters have not picked up their voter IDs. We expect widespread abstentions.

EGJ: How is the government responding?

AEO:Besides the foreseen retaliation against members and supporters of our party, we are unclear about additional measures the government will take in response to our decision. TV Asonga—owned by Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, Second Vice President and son of the President— initiated a campaign of personal insults, slurs, threats and attacks against me; to the extent that I now fear for my life. Oue decision is absolutely legitimate, and it’s part of our commitment to fight for equality, freedom, justice and respect for human rights in our country.

EGJ: What impact would the economic situation have on the outcome of the elections?

AEO:The economic crisis continues to worsen in Equatorial Guinea, and its consequences are palpable. Many companies have closed and left the country, leaving about 10,000 workers unemployed; parents are unable to pay school fees for their children; the quality of health services has worsen; civil servants’ already inadequate wages have been slashed; foreign workers continue to depart, leaving behind unoccupied villas and apartments built to accommodate them; and the purchasing power of ordinary Equatoguineans has rapidly crashed.

This deteriorating economic situation is —we believe— one of the reasons that led to Obiang calling for early elections. Equatoguineans would vote against Obiang in transparent and free elections to put an end to the situation. However, since these elections deny citizens an opportunity to express their will, I believe many people will choose to stay at home on April 24.

EGJ:  Recently students took to the streets to protest the lack of scholarships. Will we see protests following what could be seen as a rigged elections?

AEO:I don’t anticipate an uprising against the government for the rigging of elections now.  Obiang has managed to establish an electoral system based on fraud. Most people do not believe in elections as a means of bringing about political change or transition.

Protests need a single trigger; one that directly harms the interests of a group, such as last year’s unavailability of scholarships for students.

EGJ: Which are the most troubling institutional deficits today?

AEO:The lack of independence of the judiciary that should ensure the administration of equal justice for all, ensure compliance with the law, and apply the law to our own government, which systematically violates the laws.

Also, the lack of a free and independent media to keep citizens informed about what is happening in the country and abroad, so that voters can make informed decisions, free of government manipulation.

Finally, the Obiang regime does not want a free and independent civil society. This leaves the country without rights defenders, political activists, organizations, professional associations, that could monitor and hold the government accountable towards citizens. The government’s recent decision to suspend the NGO CEID, for example shows their intolerance for independent civil society voice.

EGJ: How would a CPDS government be different from the ruling PDGE government?

AEO:PDGE’s government does not emanate from the will of the people, freely expressed in the polls. It has no commitment to the people; instead, it serves the elites in power and their relatives, furthering a web of political patronage. On the contrary, a CPDS government, democratically elected by the people, would be committed to championing citizen rights and freedoms.

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