What Democracy?

What Democracy?

EG Justice June 18, 2013
Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionEmailEmail

Equatorial Guinea’s Ruling Party Claims Elections: The African Union Misses Opportunity to Advance Democracy in Equatorial Guinea.

President Obiang Nguema’s ruling Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) claimed victory in the May 26, 2013 parliamentary elections, which were plagued by fraud and irregularities, and tainted by the jailing of civilians who attempted to hold peaceful protests. The government failed to protect citizens’ right to freely elect their representatives and influence the political direction of the government in a transparent and fair electoral process in line with accepted African Union (AU) Standards.

Despite the week-long presence of 40 observers from AU, the Preliminary Statementissued by AU Observation Mission does very little to expose the numerous election-related human rights violations that occurred.

“Equatorial Guinea needs independent institutions that can ensure the supremacy of laws, good governance, protection of fundamental freedoms, and free, fair and transparent elections,” said Tutu Alicante, Executive Director of EG Justice. “Mr. Obiang and his ruling PDGE have thus far proven unable to guarantee a democratic process and protect the basic freedoms of the people of Equatorial Guinea.  The observers’ statement amounts to a wasted opportunity for the AU to press Obiang to take measurable steps to implement democratic reforms that adhere to the principles of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (The Charter).”

The Charter calls on State Parties to “establish and strengthen independent and impartial national election bodies.” This is blatantly ignored in Equatorial Guinea where the National Electoral Commission is chaired by Mr. Clemente Engonga Nguema, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, who is also an officer of the ruling party. Mr. Engonga Nguema has chaired the National Electoral Commission in every election since at least 2003.  Only two of the individuals serving on the 18-member electoral commission belong to the opposition.  Furthermore, voter registration lists, although reportedly completed in September 2012 and approved in February, had not been made public with less than one month until Election Day. 

The Charter also calls on State Parties to “ensure fair and equitable access by contesting parties and candidates to state controlled media during elections.” While the ruling party enjoyed unfettered access to the state-controlled radio and TV, the opposition has been systematically denied access to these resources. Days before the election, foreign news agencies reported that Mr. Andres Esono, leader of the CPDS, complained that 80% of the newscast the night of May 20 was dedicated to coverage of the PDGE, and never made mention  of any other political party. This unbalanced media coverage and access was also highlighted by other leaders of the CPDS throughout the campaign period.

Finally, The Charter calls on State Parties to “commit to democracy, rule of law, and human rights;” to “take measures to ensure constitutional rule;” and to “promote citizen participation and partnerships with civil society.” Amnesty International reported that ahead of the elections, the government of Equatorial Guinea arrested ten civiliansbetween May 13 and 15 for attempting to organize and hold a peaceful demonstration.  Some of these individuals continue to be held incommunicadoby government forces. Many members of the opposition party, CPDS, were detained, beaten, harassed and intimidated while attempting to campaign on behalf of their party. Amnesty International also denounced the arrest of two family members of an opposition leader of the People’s Union (UP) party, to pressure the politician to turn himself in to authorities.  On Election Day, police presence was observed at many polling places, surely placing pressure on citizens to cast their vote a particular way.  In fact, public voting was encouraged; photographs from Election Dayshow votes being cast in clear ballot boxes in a very public manner.     

Since November of 2011, Obiang has granted himself extensive powers to influence the legislature and judiciary, undermining the potential for these branches to act as a check on his power. “Under Obiang, the ruling PDGE has become one of the most powerful tools of the government and the state, significantly blurring distinctions between it and the state,” said Mr. Alicante. “The ruling PDGE monopolizes political as well as economic power in an unfair and undemocratic manner.” The political opposition held two parliamentary seats after the April 2004 elections, and despite assertions that it won more votes in the 2008 elections, its representation in parliament was reduced to just one seat.  Moreover, Obiang has usurped between 95 and 100 percent of casted votes in all previous presidential elections.

Weeks before Election Day, opposition members challenged the lack of independence of the National Electoral Commission, the government’s failure to publish the results and the lists of the electoral census, and the monopoly of state-sponsored media by the ruling PDGE. Most troubling is the widespread harassment and arbitrary detention of opposition activists and leaders; on May 10, two individuals hanging campaign posters in Kogo were detained and their campaign materials were destroyed.  Then on May 14, Clara Nsegue Eyi and Natalia Angue Edjodjoma were arrested for trying to carry out a peaceful demonstration.  On May 15, Fabian Nsue, a human rights lawyer, and Jeronimo Ndong Mesi Mibui, Secretary General of the UP, were detained and prevented from participating in a peaceful demonstration.  The government blocked at least three opposition meetings from occurring throughout Equatorial Guinea.

It is regrettable that the AU Observation Mission chose to downplay these irregularities and violations of The Charter as “weaknesses” and to conclude that the voters in Equatorial Guinea “had theopportunity to express their choice through the ballot box.”

It is unfortunate that while the AU Observation Mission noticed the government’s disregard for many principles required by The Charter, it stopped short of labeling them as violations, provided a meager list of recommendations seemingly unrelated to its observations, and concluded the election was successful.  Furthermore, by suggesting opposition members seek legal recoursein cases of dispute over election results, the AU Observation Mission demonstrates its lack of understanding about the socio-political context in Equatorial Guinea. Without an independent judiciary, there is no legal remedy for the violations that plagued the electoral process. Without the rule of law, democracy will remain an elusive concept in Equatorial Guinea.

EG JUSTICE - is a 501(c)(3) organization.
P.O. Box 57297 Washington, DC 20037 1 (202) 643 4345 Copyright © 2010 EG Justice, all rights reserved.