- Campaigning in Equatorial Guinea began yesterday for the 29 November presidential elections. President Teodoro Obiang Nguema is challenged by opposition leader Plácido Micó Abogo, the latter having few illusions he will be given a fair chance.
President Obiang, in total power since toppling his uncle in 1979, surprised everybody on 15 October when calling for anticipated elections to be held already on 29 November.
Since then, the Equatoguinean government has been in a hurry to promote the country internationally as a functional democracy. Campaigns targeted against Europe and Africa have included the sudden pardoning and freeing of British and South African mercenaries that stood behind an alleged coup in 2004.
In Washington, the Equatoguinean Embassy is actively promoting the election process as an exercise in democracy. "The government of Equatorial Guinea is committed to holding fair and democratic elections," Eqautoguinean Ambassador Purificación Angue Ondo said in a widely distributed statement today.
"As part of our reform efforts we aim to ensure all voices are heard. We view open access of the media to political candidates as crucial in this process. We are committed to ensuring all of our candidates are able to exercise their right to speak to the press," Mr Angue added.
The influential Washington PR agency Qorvis has been hired by the Equatoguinean government to make sure the message of democracy reaches US policy-makers. The message today distributed by Qorvis assures that "the country has undertaken an ambitious effort to ensure an open election process."
To prove that the opposition will have a fair chance, the statement adds: "Last week, chief opposition leader and candidate Placido Mico Abogo, Secretary General of the Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS), was interviewed on the Spanish International Channel. The interview was shown during the evening news in Equatorial Guinea."
Further, government funding is equally awaiting CPDS and President Obiang's Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE), according to the government sponsored statement. "Similar to the legislative elections held last year, all parties running in this year's presidential election will receive public funds from the government to use for their campaigns."
The CPDS and its leader Mr Micó however are not convinced this vote will be fair. There has never been a free and fair vote in Equatorial Guinea. All the "fraud and coercion" during earlier polls, Mr Micó says in his message to voters, "has made the population lose faith in the possibility of a real alternative to government through the voting process."
The opposition party in no way agrees to the government's and its PR agents' rosy description of democracy in Equatorial Guinea. Already, they claim, fraud is being prepared by government and the CPDS has been disfavoured in the election process.
As a first step, according to the CPDS, President Obiang's candidacy was made public in all media as soon as he announced the elections. Equatoguinean media however waited for more than ten days to announce Mr Micó's candidacy after he announced it, seemingly waiting for an ok nod from the government to publish it.
A free and equilibrated access to media was out of the question already from the very start, CPDS holds. In fact, there exists no single independent media in Equatorial Guinea as all have been forced to close down. The only private media are in the hands of Obiang family members. The opposition still is not even allowed to drift even a short wave radio station, CPDS complains.
Also funding is not equal, the opposition maintains. CPDS is reacting to the costly campaigns already being aired by President Obiang in local media and internationally, including TV spots in 'Africa 24'. Furthermore, CPDS holds, Mr Obiang and his family members are filling their pockets with funds from the country's great oil wealth. Funding for the ruling PDGE is unlimited, as several reports had shown.
Worst of all, according to the CPDS, there is no way of stopping massive election fraud with the PDGE government being in full control of the census, the voting process and the counting process. There is no transparency in these processes and in particular the census is claimed to be strongly manipulated. "Yet another time, the population of Equatorial Guinea is about to lose the possibility of freely electing its President," CPDS complains.
While the CPDS has little means of promotion campaigns abroad, the party leadership last week also sent out a call to the international community, "in particular the US government and the European Union." They needed to pressurise the Malabo government to allow for opposition media and for "the establishment of an Independent National Election Commission."
And the calls to the international community by both parties seem to indicate what these anticipated elections are really about, as nobody believes the opposition will be given the slightest chance of winning. A relatively well organised poll may give President Obiang the international legitimacy he still lacks as an elder African statesman. The only open question is whether the CPDS will be able to convince the international scene that the polls are fraudulent.
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