Equatorial Guinea Votes in Constitution Referendum

Posted November 13th, 2011 at 5:50 pm (UTC-5)
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Equatorial Guineans have voted in a referendum on constitutional reforms the opposition denounces as a charade.

If the changes are approved in Sunday's vote, the country's president would be limited to two seven-year terms. President Teodoro Obiang Nguema's government says the new constitution will also provide better oversight over the executive branch, improve human rights and the judicial system.

But critics say the reforms will end up increasing the authority of President Obiang, Africa's longest-serving president, who already wields influence over the legislative and judicial branches of the tiny oil-rich west African country.

And the new constitution would create a vice presidency, which opposition members and rights groups, including Human Rights Watch , say would allow President Obiang to handpick his successor.

The opposition says Mr. Obiang would likely choose his son to fill the vice presidential slot.

The new constitution also removes an existing maximum age limit for the president, which would allow the 69-year-old Obiang to continue running for president after he turns 75.

Mr. Obiang has been in power since 1979. The anti-corruption group Transparency International ranks Equatorial Guinea among the world's 12 most corrupt countries.

HRW says President Obiang's son is under investigation for corruption and money laundering in France, Spain, and the United States.