| 3 March 2024, Sunday |

World’s longest-ruling leader holds vote to extend rule of tiny African state

The referendum to extend President Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea’s 43-year leadership of a small, autocratic African nation where once-abundant oil riches has been rapidly declining took place on Sunday. Obiang is the world’s longest-serving head of state.

Obiang, 80, who has consistently won more than 90% of the vote in elections held over the course of five terms since he seized power from his uncle in a coup in 1979, remarked, “What you plant is what you get.”

Two opposition candidates are standing: Buenaventura Monsuy Asumu, who has already stood in the previous five elections, and Andrés Esono Ondo, an opposition figure running for the first time.

He said some semblance of fair voting was taking place in the island capital Malabo, but his party had evidence that officials elsewhere were casting ballots on voters’ behalf or forcing them to vote for the ruling party.

Government and officials of Equatorial Guinea’s election directorate could not be reached for comment.

Maja Bovcon, a senior Africa analyst at risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft, said the election outcome was in no doubt: “The closure of the borders and the harassment and arrests of opposition supporters have been paving the way for the extension of Obiang’s 43-year rule.”

The United States and the European Union called for a free and fair election, and raising concern over reports of harassments and intimidation of the opposition and civil society groups. The government rejected the accusations as interference in its electoral process.

At the conclusion of his campaign on Friday, Obiang stated that the economic crisis led him to choose to move forward the presidential election by many months and hold it concurrently with the legislature and municipal elections in order to save money.

About 75 percent of the country’s income comes from the extraction of oil and gas. However, as oil fields age, production has decreased in recent years to about 93,000 barrels per day (bpd), from about 160,000 bpd in 2015.

In the nation of roughly 1.5 million, more than 400,000 people have registered to vote. In addition, voters will choose 55 of the nation’s 70 senators, 100 members of the lower house of parliament, and local mayors.

  • Reuters