Equatorial Guinean President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo faces two opponents on Sunday as he runs for a sixth term, but critics see little hope of change in a country where there is little opposition.
Obiang has been in power for more than 43 years – the longest tenure of any living head of state except for monarchs.
His re-election seems certain in one of the most authoritarian and closed countries in the world.
Ahead of Sunday’s vote, images of Obiang and his Equatorial Guinea Democratic Party (PDGE), which was the country’s only legal political movement until 1991, were sprayed across the capital, Malabo.
Andres Esono Ondo, 61, from the only tolerated opposition party in the country, is running against him.
The general secretary of the Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS) is running for the first time and is the only representative of the silenced opposition.
Ondo has said he fears “fraud” during the vote, which will see voters choose a president as well as MPs.
Malabo has made his own allegations against the politician, accusing him in 2019 of plotting “a foreign-funded coup in Equatorial Guinea.”
That year he was detained in Chad for 13 days in hopes of attending a congress of the Chadian opposition.
The third candidate is Buenaventura Monsuy Asumu of the Social Democratic Coalition Party (PCSD), a historic ally of Obiang’s ruling party.
The former minister is running for the fourth time but has never done well in previous elections.
The opposition accuses him of being a “bogus candidate” with no chance.
As in every election year, the security forces have increased arrests in recent weeks.
State media justified the crackdown as trying to counter a “frustrated plan” by the opposition to launch attacks on embassies, petrol stations and ministers’ homes.
In September, after a siege lasting more than a week, security forces stormed the home of one of Obiang’s main opponents, Gabriel Nse Obiang Obono.
His home had also served as the offices of his banned Citizens for Innovation (CI) party.
According to Malabo, the attack claimed five lives – four activists and a police officer.
Dozens were injured and more than 150 people arrested, including Obono.
Leading rights activist Joaquin Elo Ayeto told AFP the incident “discredited” the electoral process.
“The ruling party needs an ‘opposition’ to hold sham elections,” he said.
Allegations of fraud have plagued past polls. In 2016, Obiang was re-elected with 93.7 percent of the vote.
His PDGE won 99 of the 100 seats in the lower house and all 70 seats in the senate.
In 2009, the President received more than 95 percent of the vote.
The opposition members, most of whom live in exile, are not hoping for a breakthrough on Sunday.
“Obiang’s elections were never free or democratic, but were marked by widespread and systematic… fraud,” the joint statement said.
Although everyone was required to vote, they “requested all citizens of Equatorial Guinea not to take part in any phase of the electoral process.”