This country of less than half a million people has an army, a navy, an air force, a rapid intervention force, and a national police force, all of which Obiang commands as chief of state. The Constitution of 1991 guarantees citizens fundamental liberties, but in practice, Obiang rules Equatorial Guinea with an iron fist, and Equatoguineans have almost no political rights.
In the months preceding the 1995 municipal elections, the government released numerous political prisoners, including prominent opposition leader Severo Moto Nsa. The releases raised hopes among the opposition and international community for the possibility of genuine political reform. The optimism was short-lived. In mid-January 1996, political activist Genoveve Nchama was arrested after criticizing the government on a Spanish radio program. She was held in detention for several weeks and beaten. On 16 February 1996, several members of the POC were arrested, detained in custody for up to two days, and severely beaten. Roman Catholic priests were also reportedly arrested and tortured for opposing the regime.
Obiang met with opposition leaders on 18 March to coopt them into participating in the new government but clearly failed to do so. Of the 40 members of government, only five positions went to junior members from minor parties that ultimately supported the president's reelection. The three key ministerial portfolios—interior and local government, foreign affairs and international cooperation, and mines and hydrocarbons—went to long-time supporters from Obiang's home town. In April, the 53-member United Nations (UN) Human Rights Commission adopted unanimously a resolution condemning Obiang's government for "grave and persistent" violations of human rights.
The prospects of newfound wealth from the discovery of oil-rich deposits near the maritime border with Nigeria virtually ensured that Obiang would employ all possible means to stay in power. By 1999, oil had become the country's major export, accounting for approximately 70% of the gross national product (GNP). In 2001, the government took in around $200 million from oil, but much of the wealth seems to benefit the government hierarchy.
In March 1999, the second multiparty legislative elections in the country's history featured nearly 700 candidates representing 13 political parties. Obiang's party, PDGE, won 75 of the 80 seats. Members of the opposition parties argued that the elections were unfair, but international observers reported that the elections could stand.
When Parliament opened in April, the five opposition candidates were away on what was reported to be official business in Spain. The next month, Obiang rejected a plan by the Parliament of Spain to send a delegation to investigate alleged irregularities in the March legislative elections, insisting that the voting had been free and fair.