Dakar - Equatorial Guinea's elections this month are unlikely to be free as the organising body is controlled by the government and the work of observers will be severely restricted, three human rights organisations said on Tuesday.
Voters in the oil-rich Central African state are due to vote on May 26 to choose members of Parliament, senators and local councillors in an election expected to tighten President Teodoro Nguema Obiang's 34-year grip on power.
Amnesty International, EG Justice and Human Rights Watch said in a joint statement that the government was not respecting its own laws guaranteeing freedom of expression, assembly and association.
“President Obiang often says that Africans should demand a voice in global affairs but he denies one to the people of Equatorial Guinea,” Tutu Alicante, executive director at EG Justice, said in the statement.
Obiang rejected the accusations, saying his government had carried out reforms to strengthen its electoral process and was improving citizen participation.
“We are surprised that international non-governmental organisations have criticised us while we work to improve systems,” the president said in a statement.
“Our most vocal critics have not even bothered to spend time witnessing our progress or working with our people to make positive change,” Obiang said.
The human rights groups said the country has no independent body to oversee the vote or deal with complaints related to it.
“The National Election Commission is controlled by the ruling party and is headed by the interior minister, a prominent member of the governing party,” Alicante said.
The groups said a decree issued in March imposed strict rules on international observers, including the need to follow a government-issued programme, speaking to media only with permission and refraining from making disparaging comments.
While oil wealth has improved the infrastructure in the Central African nation of 700 000, critics say corruption remains rampant, progress on social programmes has been slow and the government has zero tolerance for dissent.
There is just one opposition member in the 100-seat parliament and critics have warned that Obiang is seeking to line up his son Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, widely known as “Teodorin”, as his successor. - Reuters