Ruling government set to dominate E.Guinea elections
Equatorial Guinea will vote in parliamentary elections on Sunday where the opposition, facing many hurdles but buoyed by rallies, is hoping for a breakthrough at the expense of the ruling party.
The election is widely expected to be dominated by the party of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Africa's longest-serving leader, who has ruled the tiny oil-rich nation for 37 years.
His Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) controls 99 percent of the seats in parliament, over which it has held sway since single-party rule was scrapped in 1991.
But opposition parties hope to make gains, even if they say they have no access to state media, which regularly broadcasts campaign ads by the PDGE and whose news broadcasts only cover meetings by the president's part.
Internet is widely censored in the country, opposition websites have been blocked since 2013, and Facebook has been blocked since the official start of the election campaign on October 27.
- Rising party? -
One party in particular, Citizens for Innovation (CI), has generated a buzz in Malabo, the capital. It has never taken part in elections but its rallies typically draw thousands of supporters.
"We will contest 97 percent of seats so if the elections are free, and with the popularity enjoyed by our party, we hope to win the elections," said party leader Gabriel Nse Obiang, a former army lieutenant who has returned to the country after 13 years' exile in Spain.
He was barred from contesting presidential elections in 2016 as he had not lived in the country for five consecutive years -- and was excluded from Sunday's ballot too after being sentenced to six months' jail for "serious insults" against the ruling party and banned from all political activity.
CI said some of its candidates were arrested and supporters injured in clashes with police on Sunday in Aconibe when police tried to prevent a campaign motorcade from attending a scheduled rally. Several police were hurt, it said.
Equatorial Guinea has frequently come under fire from human rights groups for suppressing dissident voices and the media, as well as widespread corruption.
The president's son, Teodorin Obiang, was given a three-year suspended prison sentence in France last month for plundering tens of millions of dollars in public money to buy luxury homes and cars, a landmark ruling which he is set to appeal.
The former Spanish colony, which borders Cameroon and Gabon, is one of sub-Sahara's biggest oil producers but a large proportion of the 1.2 million population still lives in poverty.
- Weaker economy -
Opposition parties hope to take advantage of a weakening economy that has been impacted by falling oil prices.
"These elections (are) an opportunity for the people who suffer from misery, unemployment, poverty, disease and injustice because of the regime... to take their destiny into their own hands," said Andres Esono Ondo, secretary general of the Convergence for Social Democracy.
The ruling PDGE is confident of winning the election though and is promising to introduce free primary education if returned to power.
The party is "the most firmly established in the country through its dynamism and its capacity to take of public affairs," PDGE member Martin Ela Ondo told AFP.
Around 300,000 people are eligible to take part in the elections, which will choose 100 MPs and 75 senators as well as the mayors of Malebo, the country's political capital, and Bata, its economic hub.