The government of Equatorial Guinea is claiming that 99 percent of the electorate approved a package of constitutional reforms in a national referendum yesterday. Opposition groups claim the vote was a sham.
The referendum will establish a two-term presidential limit, create the office of vice president, and remove the constitutional limit barring a president from serving beyond 75 years of age. The current president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, has been in office since overthrowing Francisco Macias in a coup in 1979. He is 69 and in the second year of a presidential term set to expire in 2016. It is unclear whether the new term limit would prevent him from serving one or more terms beyond the current seven-year term.
Those who observe political developments in Equatorial Guinea generally believe the constitutional changes effected by this referendum are designed to make it easier for Obiang to ensure that his oldest son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, will be able to succeed him as president. The younger Obiang is expected to be named vice president soon. This expectation has been bolstered by the fact that he has, in recent months, been named vice president of the ruling party, chair of the constitutional reform campaign, and ambassador to UNESCO. He has also been hit with legal proceedings in France and the United States aimed at seizing assets that are the products of bribery and extortion, but such embarrassments seem to have little effect on politics inside Equatorial Guinea.