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Africa
Polling opens in Equatorial Guinea
President Obiang tells Al Jazeera his leadership is unchallenged ahead of election.
Last Modified: 29 Nov 2009 07:09 GMT

Voting began at 8am (0700GMT) on Sunday for a presidential poll in Equatorial Guinea, where Teodoro Obiang Nguema, the incumbent, has said that no alternative to his 30-year rule has materialised.

Obiang made the comments to Al Jazeera on Saturday, a day before the poll to which journalists and election observers have been given scant access.

Members of the media have been denied visas to the country and a presidential decree has ruled that African observers must be accompanied by government employees and not make "disparaging remarks".

Nguema meanwhile has said that he will take more than the 97 per cent of the vote he took in the last poll in 2002.

'Slum to riches'

"We have to look back and see where this country was, what we have been, and what we have been able to do with this country," the 67-year-old said of his United National Workers' Party.

"How we have been able to conduct the gradual development of this country from slum to riches and what this party has done for this nation and what this party through me has achieved for this nation.

"That is the reason why the people and the nation are totally and fully convinced that we have done so far is highly credible, that they have not yet found an alternative.

"This alternative, which will convince the people that rests on the shoulders of someone else within our party ranks, we will give them that option. But up to this moment that option has not surfaced."

However, opposition parties have accused Obiang - who has ruled the small, oil-rich nation since 1979 - of using laws to tighten his grip on power, and having the election organised by his own ministers.

"Elections here have become a game," Wenceslao Mansogo Alo, a human rights representative of the main opposition Convergence for Social Democracy, said.

'Corruption and repression'

Western governments are also accused of ignoring state corruption and repression, in favour of dealings in the West African nation's oil and gas reserves.

"We feel isolated and disappointed because we are doing what little we can while those who have interests in this country should be putting pressure on this regime," Mansogo said.

"Countries like the United States and the European Union have the power to intervene with this dictatorship."

Equatorial Guinea is the third largest producer of oil in sub-Sarahran Africa, aiding the country's annual per capita income rise to $31,000, the highest in the region.

However, more than 60 per cent of its about 600,000 citizens still live on less than $1 per day.

US firm Exxon Mobile first discovered oil in the country in 1994, and US companies continue to dominate the market there.

Paul-Simon Handy, a political analyst  at the South African Institute for Security Studies, said: "It's a scandal. Only some 30 to 40 per cent of the population has access to clean water and electricity.

"Meanwhile, the government boasts of multimillion-dollar investments in roads and other infrastructure."

Freedom of speech

Obiang refuted the accusations to Al Jazeera: "There is freedom of speech, there is freedom of association, there is freedom of political parties, there is freedom of almost every aspect of press. Therefore, I will only qualify such denouncements as false.

"Equatorial Guinea today has such a very strict control over her resources. That there is hardly a way, a mechanism by which anyone in the country will be able to deviate not even one cent.

"They accuse me they accuse members of my family, my collaborators in government of corruption. I ask myself, where is this corruption, how is it found, where is it discovered, in what and what cycle is it actually detected.

"Because I cannot, I don't have knowledge of that. There is none whatsoever."

The four opposition presidential candidates are widely expected to score way below Obiang in the poll.

Polling stations open at 8am (0700GMT) and close at 6pm (1700GMT) on Sunday. Results are due to be announced on December the 7, four days after first estimates.

The US called the 2002 election "seriously flawed".

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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