Polls open in Equatorial Guinea

2009-11-29 09:27

Malabo - Polls opened in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea on Sunday morning in a presidential election observers say is expected to be little more than a rubber stamp for long-term President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

Obiang, 67, who seized power from his uncle in a 1979 coup, has said he intends to win with 97% of the vote, which would be a repeat of his 2002 victory, when he scooped 97.1% of the vote.

Obiang's Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea has strolled to victory in all elections since multiparty politics was introduced in 1991, and holds 99 out of 100 seats in the nation's parliament.

Equatorial Guinea's human rights record is poor, and organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders said this week that the meagre opposition in the country has been harassed and given virtually no coverage in the state-run media.

Election observers from the African Union and Economic Community of Central African States are subject to rules that compromise their efforts to monitor the election, Human Rights Watch said.

Obiang has long faced charges of human rights abuses and of stripping his country of its wealth.

Equatorial Guinea became Africa's third-largest oil producer behind Nigeria and Angola, after the discovery of oil and gas deposits in the mid-1990s sparked huge growth. It also has significant natural gas deposits.

US companies buy up a large percentage of Equatorial Guinea's 250 000 barrels per day and the government is in negotiations with Germany's E. ON AG to develop its gas resources.

Transparency International regularly ranks the nation as one of the most corrupt in the world in its annual corruption index, this year placing it 12th from the bottom on its 180-nation list.

Obiang and his son Teodorin both faced investigation into their multimillion-dollar assets, in France and the US respectively, but no charges have been filed.

Polls close at 18:00 GMT and while some initial indications of the results may be available immediately, final results could take up to a week.