May 20, 2008 / 5:33 PM / 11 years ago

Ruling party sweeps Equatorial Guinea elections

MALABO, May 20 (Reuters) - Equatorial Guinea’s ruling party has overwhelmingly won parliamentary elections, reducing the opposition presence in the 100-member assembly to just one seat from the previous two, electoral officials said on Tuesday.

The Constitutional Court announced the final results from the May 4 polls, underscoring President Teodoro Obiang Nguema’s control over parliament in the West African oil producer.

Equatorial Guinea, located in the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea, has risen since its first oil discoveries in the mid-1990s to become sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest crude exporter after Nigeria and Angola.

But most of its population of around half a million still live in poverty.

In a country where political dissent is rare and Obiang’s power is all pervasive, the only major opposition party, the Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS), managed to hang on to only one of the two seats it won in the 2004 elections.

The single CPDS seat was obtained in the capital Malabo.

Obiang’s ruling Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE), along with its coalition allies, won 99 seats, according to the official results. In the municipal elections also held on May 4, the PDGE and its allies obtained 319 councillor seats, while the opposition CPDS won 13.

The elections were held peacefully and the result was widely expected.

Observers say the national assembly is seen as little more than a rubber stamp for presidential decisions, and often as a vehicle for political patronage and personal enrichment.

“In practice, the chamber has not demonstrated independence, and rarely acts without presidential approval or direction,” the U.S. State Department said in its most recent country report.

WEALTH INEQUALITY

The CIA ranks Equatorial Guinea with its small population as top among African countries in terms of GDP per capita — estimated at $44,100 in 2007, ahead even of Switzerland, Canada and Britain.

But although foreign donors recognise some slight progress in social development, the former Spanish African colony is often held up as a shocking example of wealth inequality.

Donors, among them the United States, which is also the biggest cumulative foreign investor, cite shortcomings in political freedom and in respect for human rights.

Nevertheless, Obiang has been received in Washington as a friend and U.S. oil companies have pumped an estimated $12 billion of investment into Equatorial Guinea, fuelling one of the fastest growth rates in Africa over the past decade.

But this has not been matched at the same pace by investments or government spending to reduce poverty.

“Education, health and water and sewerage projects remain only a small share of public investment spending,” the IMF said in a recent report.

Obiang, a former military police officer, overthrew his dictatorial uncle Francisco Macias Nguema in a 1979 coup.

While donors see an improvement over Macias' bloody rule, human rights groups such as Amnesty International say repression and torture of political opponents has continued under Obiang. (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: africa.reuters.com/) (Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by David Fogarty)

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