Obiang Nguema's government is widely viewed as a continuation of the clan politics practiced by his predecessor, albeit in a less vicious form. It is generally believed that Obiang personally carried out many of the repressive and expulsionary orders issued by Macías Nguema. Thus support for the Obiang regime has never extended far beyond its immediate beneficiaries.
For the first 10 years, Obiang ruled as chairman of the Supreme Military Council. Political activity was banned, but opposition groups were organized abroad and at home. Under pressure from international donors to effect political and economic reforms, Obiang's government has ostensibly been preparing for the transition to a multiparty democracy since 1982, but in fact, there have been no free elections in Equatorial Guinea since independence. The 1982 Constitution provided for a return to civilian rule after a seven-year transition. Parliamentary elections were organized for August 1983, but opposition parties were not permitted to participate, and all 41 candidates seated were nominated by Obiang. In 1987, Obiang announced the formation of the government Partido Democratico de Guinea Ecuatorial (Democratic Party for Equatorial Guinea—PDGE), of which he was the head. At the end of the transition period, presidential elections were held. Brigadier General (Ret.) Obiang Nguema ran uncontested and on 25 June 1989, won a new seven-year term.
Elections to the 80-seat House of People's Representatives held in 1993 were boycotted by the opposition as fraudulent and condemned by foreign observers. Municipal elections held on 17 September 1995 were preceded by widespread government use of arbitrary arrest, illegal detention, and beatings of opposition organizers and candidates. Opposition candidates stayed in the race, however, and on polling day, international observers declared reports from polling stations indicated that the Plataforma de la Oposicion Conjunta (Joint Opposition Platform—POC) had won with 60% of the vote, and the ruling PDGE had received 25%. The government refused to release these results. Ten days later, it announced that the PDGE had won a two to one majority of seats.
Opposition groups redoubled their efforts to campaign for the presidential election scheduled for June 1996. In a boldly unconstitutional move, Obiang announced in January 1996 that he was moving the date of the election up to 25 February. The government next decided to abandon the voter's poll that had been drawn up in 1995 with foreign donor participation. Finally, election procedures were changed to eliminate the possibility of a run off. Eventually all but one opposition candidate, Secundino Oyono of the Social Democratic and Popular Convergence Party, withdrew from the race, charging fraud and intimidation. International observers agreed. The voting itself, which was witnessed by international observers, was fraught with irregularities. When the official results were announced, Obiang had been awarded 97.9% of the vote, and the four opposition candidates who had withdrawn shared the remaining 2.1%.
In the 1999 parliamentary elections, the ruling PDGE obtained all but 5 seats. Again, most of the opposition boycotted the election.
The power of the PDGE became most apparent in February 2001 when, following months of attacks from the PDGE, citing an "institutional crisis" of corruption, the entire Equatorial Guinea cabinet resigned. The statement presented by then-Prime Minister Angel Serafin Seriche Dugan to Obiang indicated the dissolution resulted because the existing government, presumably Parliament, did not represent or respect the majority opinion of the people and the priority interests of the country. Obiang appointed a new prime minister, Cándido Muatetema Rivas, in March 2001. The United Nations Development Program has proposed a broad governance reform program, but Obiang has seemed somewhat reluctant to accept or implement the program. In fall 2002, Obiang called for elections to be held in December 2002, a few months earlier than the official date of February 2003. The African Union (AU) sent observers, but Obiang was unopposed on the ballot, and thus was reelected.