Thoughts on the Democratic Process in Equatorial Guinea

The United States remains committed to supporting the free and full participation of the Equatoguinean people in the electoral processes for the current and future elections.  The U.S. Embassy has consistently encouraged the Government to ensure that its National Electoral Commission is truly independent of influence from the governmental administration, that all political parties in Equatorial Guinea have equal access to the media, and that the people of Equatorial Guinea have the opportunity to understand the visions and goals of the different candidates for the Presidency of the country.  The process in Equatorial Guinea, however, did not meet all of these concerns.  The National Electoral Commission was not composed of members who are completely independent from the governmental administration; the election was announced only in March for an April 24th election day, a six week time period that did not allow opposition parties time to prepare their campaigns or introduce their candidates to the voting public; the members of the public were registered to vote in a process that was not transparent and was not observed by the international or domestic observers; and the ruling party had an overwhelming advantage in both financial resources and news media attention.

The U.S. found the pre-electoral period was undermined by limitations on the freedoms of expression, assembly, and association; the lack of a level playing field for candidates; continued allegations of candidate and voter intimidation; and a restrictive media environment.  The security services placed restrictions on the freedom of movement of the members of the opposition party Ciudadanos por la Innovacion (CI) a few days before the election.  We call on all parties to resolve the matter peacefully.  Despite assurances that all political parties would have equal access to the media, the PDGE alone has had consistent coverage.  The other parties have had extremely limited coverage, even less than the weekly 70 minutes they were legally allotted, and there has been no presentation of their political platforms or goals.  Civil Society’s participation has also been limited.  The Government recently temporarily suspended CEID, one of the few Civil Society Organizations that was promoting more civic engagement from the public as well as working with the government in its bid to rejoin the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).  As a result of the suspension, CEID was unable to act as a domestic observer during the election. The accreditation process for Election observers was also not transparent and denials of observer credentials had no legal basis.

On the day of the election, the US Embassy was limited in observing the process to a couple of teams to cover the 18 voting districts.  Despite that, we were able to observe five of the country’s eight provinces and seven of the 18 districts where nearly 60% of the population resides.  Our small team was able to observe over 40 polling stations where we did indeed witness the orderly processing of votes that the local news media highlighted throughout the day.  What we also saw and the media didn’t report was cases of voter intimidation, compromised sanctity of the vote, government influence, irregularities in both the ballots and ballot boxes, and a consistent failure to ink the voter’s fingers properly.  We were pleased to see the Government of Equatorial Guinea had improved the voting process from the previous Presidential election and we call on them to continue to make efforts to fulfill their promise of open, fair, and transparent elections.

As much as the Government of Equatorial Guinea is nominally a multiparty democracy, the serious problems mentioned raise concerns that the voices of the citizens of Equatorial Guinea have not been fully heard.  As President Barack Obama stated in this year’s State of the Union Address to the U.S. Congress,

. . . democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens.  It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice, or that our political opponents are unpatriotic.  . . .  Most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some narrow interest.

Finally, the U.S. will continue to call upon the Government of Equatorial Guinea to ensure and respect the rights of its citizens to exercise their freedom of expression, conscience, and peaceful assembly — the hallmarks of true democracies.