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Equatorial Guinea: Referendum on Constitutional Changes

(Nov. 23, 2011) On November 13, 2011, Equatorial Guinea held a referendum on proposed constitutional changes. Official reports state that 91% of the electorate participated and that the proposals garnered 97.7% support. (Jennie Ryan, Equatorial Guinea Holds Referendum on Constitutional Changes, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (Nov. 14, 2011); Flawed Vote, EG Justice website (Nov. 15, 2011).)

The referendum included proposals to change how many terms a President can be in office and to remove the existing limit on the age of anyone in office as President. That limit was part of article 33 of the Constitution, which stated that the President must be 40 to 75 years old. (Ryan, supra; Constitution of 1991, as amended on Jan. 17, 1995, World Intellectual Property Organization website.) An additional proposal was to create the office of Vice-President, to be filled by appointment by the President. (Ryan, supra.)

Critics charge that these changes are designed to further increase the power of the incumbent, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, in part by permitting him to essentially hand-pick his successor through the appointment of a Vice-President. (Id.) In addition, the vote itself has been described as a “fraud”; both EG Justice and Human Rights Watch have reported ballot stuffing and voter intimidation through such means as the stationing of armed security personnel inside polling places and threats against voting monitors from members of the opposition. (EG Justice, supra; Equatorial Guinea: Vote Discredited by Irregularities, Human Rights Watch website (Nov. 15, 2011).) EG Justice describes itself as “an independent voice for reform in Equatorial Guinea,” and states that its mission is to “to promote human rights, the rule of law, transparency, and civic participation to build a just Equatorial Guinea.” (About Us, EG Justice website, (last visited Nov. 21, 2011).)

Mbasogo has been in office more than 30 years, since taking power in a coup in August 1979. (Joshua Norman, World's Enduring Dictators: Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Equatorial Guinea, WORLD WATCH (May 22, 2011).)