Equatorial Guinea: Obiang Sure to Win As Opposition Quits Poll

Washington, DC — Equatorial Guinea's four main opposition parties withdrew from the country's presidential election on Sunday on the grounds that the poll was rigged and fraudulent. Their decision guarantees that President Teodoro Obiang Nguema will continue in office. He has held the position for 22 years.

President Obiang Nguema was left without a major challenger after the pull-out, since the only two remaining candidates are from pro-Obiang parties.

Celesto Bonifacio Bacale of the opposition Convergence for Social Democracy (CSDP) was the first to withdraw, calling the election fraudulent. "Voting is totally fraudulent at every level. In 90% of the polling stations, the vote is being carried out in public, and people are being obliged to take only one voting slip, the one for Obiang," he was quoted as saying.

In an interview with allAfrica.com before the vote, exiled opposition leader Severo Moto of the Progress Party said it was "impossible" for the elections to be free.

Moto is one of some 68 opposition leaders in Equatorial Guinea sentenced in June to jail terms ranging from six to 20 years for reportedly plotting to overthrow President Teodoro Obiang Nguema. CSDP leader Placido Mico remains in jail.

"These sentences were passed after an unfair trial where no evidence was presented against any defendant, many of whom have been tortured to extract confessions from them," an Amnesty International observer at the trial reported.

Obiang seized power from his uncle, Francisco Macias, in 1979. Macias was considered one of Africa's most brutal dictators. "but Obiang is worse," says Moto.

The tiny country, bordered by Cameroon to the north, Gabon to the south and the Gulf of Guinea to the west is now in the midst of an oil boom in which U.S. companies figure most prominently. Production of crude and natural gas liquids, now 220,000 barrels a day as of last month, according to the International Energy Agency in Paris, is projected to reach 300,000 by the end of 2003. This is equivalent of 14 percent of production in Nigeria, Africa's largest oil producer.

Oil has contributed to a doubling of the population in the country's capital, Malabo, located on an island in the Gulf. But most of the oil wealth has gone to a privileged elite. Obiang insists that oil revenues are a state secret.

In two past elections, Obiang has won with an official count that gave him 97 percent of the vote. Results from this election are expected Wednesday or Thursday.

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