http://twitter.com/#!/africanelectionWith 18 presidential elections and one referendum that may lead to the creation of Africa's newest state, 2011 promises to be a year of change www.africanelections.org looks at preview of up coming African elections. The outcome of the polls will be crucial for countries home to instability and politicised violence: the Central African Republic, Congo-Kinshasa, Madagascar and Zimbabwe. The slate of popular consultations is mixed, with some contests wide open, while in others, the outcomes have been foretold well in advance. Few expect a change in the occupant of the presidential palace in Cameroon, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Gambia or Uganda. On the other hand, there are potentially close races developing in Benin, Cape Verde, Liberia, Niger, São Tomé e Príncipe, Seychelles and Zambia.
The full effects of the most important African election of 2010 have yet to be felt. The 28 November second round of presidential elections in Côte d'Ivoire have set the tone for closely fought polls across the continent. If international mediators pushed governments of national unity in 2008, these sorts of arrangements seem to have reached the limit of their utility. In the Côte d'Ivoire case, the international reaction has been swift, but its tools limited. Analysts had been saying that President Laurent Gbagbo was too smart to organise elections that he would not win, so perhaps this represents a set in the direction of much more fiercely competitive elections on the continent. With so many polls in one year, the votes are certain to produce a fair mix of results. What follows is a breakdown of the issues and personalities involved in national elections across Africa in 2011.
Central African Republic
23 January national elections are unlikely to bring stability to the impoverished and instability-prone country. Opposition parties had boycotted the polls after a dispute about the logistics of the voting process. The registration process was reopened in late November to allow opposition leader Martin Ziguele of the Mouvement de Liberation du Peuple Centrafricain to run. Ziguele will compete for the opposition vote with former President Ange-Felix Patasse, providing Bozize with a stronger chance of victory. Several rebel groups have refused to join the political process and remain a threat to President Francois Bozize's government. In late November the Convention des Patriotes pour la Justice et la Paix rebels took control of and were later expelled from Birao in northern CAR near the border with Chad and Sudan.
The polls in CAR will be followed on 31 January by the transitional process which should bring a return to civilian rule in Niger after a military junta brought an end to Mamadou Tandja's rule in February 2010. The opposition will be represented by Mahamadou Issoufou and Mahamane Ousmane, while former Prime Minister Hama Amadou is also running. The former ruling party, Tandja's Mouvement National pour la Société de Développement, has yet to announce its candidate. The likely winner will be the person who is able to rally the most support to his camp in the second round of voting, as the first round is unlikely to provide any candidate with a majority.
President Yoweri Museveni and the ruling National Resistance Movement show no signs of becoming more tolerant of the opposition or loosing their grip on power. The opposition had hoped to present a united front, but the Democratic Party's Norbert Mao refused to join up. Museveni will again face a challenge from Kizza Besigye, who scored 37.4% of vote in the 2006 polls and will represent the Inter-Party Cooperation in 2011. The government's battles throughout 2010 with the Buganda kingdom could shift more support to the opposition. However, with commercial oil production on the horizon, the incentives to stay in power have never been greater.
Benin's national elections in March promise to be one of the most competitive in Africa. Incumbent President Thomas Yayi Boni came to power in 2006 promising the root out corruption and improve the economy. Financial scandals, bureaucratic inertia, erratic weather, poor agricultural performance and a lack of a majority in parliament have not contributed to the realisation of Boni's promises. He will face off against a candidate who represents the unified opposition in the form of Adrien Houngbédji, who he beat with almost 75%. The situation will be complicated by the fact that the incumbent will face a man who represents his own mirror image on the eve of the 2006 elections: Abdoulaye Bio Tchane. Tchane will run as an independent technocrat and currently serves as President of the Banque Ouest-Africaine pour le Développement. With three candidates in the mix, the race is wide open but the elections may be delayed over concerns about the new computerised electoral register, which has not yet been created.
Peace, stability, economic development and democratic elections continues unabated in Cape Verde, where the government prides itself on being the first country that will meet the majority of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. President Pedro Pires is set to retire this year and presidential races on the archipelago tend to be tight, with the 2006 presidential poll decided by less than 4,000 votes. The Partido Africano da Independência de Cabo Verde will likely be represented by current Prime Minister José Maria Neves, while the opposition Movimento para a Democracia will be represented by Carlos Veiga, who lost in 2001 and 2006 polls.
Having reached a relative peace with its counterpart in Sudan and seemingly neutralised rebels in the east, the Chadian government is looking to solidify its authority with peaceful elections that reaffirm President Idris Déby Itno in power. With the major opposition parties having boycotted the 2006 polls, the government wants to be sure that they stay involved in the process so as to at least give the impression of a functioning democratic electoral system. Elections in Chad have often produced contested results, but none of the opposition candidates have sufficient support to provide much of a challenge to the incumbent.
That has proved difficult. In late December the government was obliged to sack election chief Ngarmajiel Gami due to allegations that the electoral commission was participating in electoral fraud. The opposition accused him of obeying President Déby rather than the electoral law by illicitly placing candidates at the President's request. Elections are scheduled for 3 April, but they may be subject to further delays. The holding of peaceful national elections is a key element to a return to normalcy after the opposition's exile from politics and the rise of the rebellion in the east, though all of the rebel groups have not committed to participating in the political process. The 2011 election is one of the last elements of the 2007 political accord intended to forge a consensus at the centre of the Chadian political system.
President Ismail Omar Guelleh's crushing majority in parliament allowed him to revise the constitution in April 2010 so as to stay in power for as long as he should like. Elections will be held a year from that date and Guelleh is the only candidate with a chance of victory. The opposition has remained steadfast in its implementation of a boycott on participating in governance and elections. There are no independent opposition parties serving in the country's national assembly or local municipalities.
With presidential, parliamentary and local elections in Nigeria in April, lots of eyes will be focused on Africa's most populous country. With isolated violence in places across the country – a bomb attack in Abuja, trouble with communal violence in the Middle Belt and tension in the Niger Delta – the prospects of tense elections means that the security forces will be on alert. After the dreadfully administered national elections organised by the Independent National Election Commission in 2007, there is much room for improvement in the organisation of the coming polls. Standards of transparency and good governance have been weak and the courts overturned several of the 2007 governorship election results due to fraud and interference in the electoral process.
President Goodluck Jonathan took over from the late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua in May 2010, but he has not been able to calm spirits in the ruling People's Democratic Party which claim that it is still the turn of a northern candidate to represent the PDP. Jonathan was born in what is now Bayelsa State, and his presidency represents the first time that someone from the Niger Delta has been the principal resident at the presidential palace at Aso Rock. Barons in the PDP decided on a single candidate to face off against Jonathan in the party primary. They selected former President Olusegun Obasanjo's Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar, to represent the north in primaries that will be held in mid-January. Twenty of the 27 PDP governors have pledged to support Jonathan, so he is likely to emerge victorious.
This promises to be one of the feistiest and competitive elections within recent years. The opposition parties are also promising a tough campaign, with several heavyweight candidates representing different interests. Former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari formed his own political party, the Congress for Progressive Change. Another candidate who will compete for the northern vote is former anti-corruption boss Nuhu Ribadu. The Action Congress of Nigeria has chosen him to run as the party's candidate and he is likely to take the good governance vote and some votes from the north. All of the campaigns hit on common themes, like the lack of electricity and jobs.
Former disc-jockey Andry Rajeolina chased former President Marc Ravalomanana out of power in March 2009 but his government was shunned by its African counterparts and the country's donors. After the holding of a referendum on a new constitution in November 2010, Rajeolina's transitional government is trying to steer the transition to completion through the holding of presidential elections in May or June. Despite the signing of a global political agreement in August, the three major political groups have had trouble deciding on the ground rules to bring the transition to an end. Rajeolina represents one block, while Ravalomanana and former President Didier Ratsiraka head up the two others. Due to the continued mistrust between the actors, there is a strong possibility that the polls will again be delayed. Rajeolina has led voters to believe that he will not run in the election he plans to organise, and this leaves the field wide open because there is not a strong likelihood their either Ravalomanana or Ratsiraka will run.
Having faced its own financial crisis in 2008, the Seychelles is now back on safer economic grounds, due to the intervention of the International Monetary Fund and the government's adoption of a series of painful reforms. Incumbent President James Michel's government will likely play for time to organise new elections, which must be held before July, so that the economic troubles will be as far away in history as possible. Michel, who won 53.6% of the vote in 2006, is likely to serve a second term due to long-term oppositionist Wavel Ramkalawan's inability to gain traction. Michel's Parti Lepep, which used to be the Seychelles People's Progressive Front, has ruled uninterrupted since the return to multiparty politics in 1991.
São Tomé e Príncipe
São Tomé will also head to the polls in July, but the election is not likely to bring stability to the fragile governments that replace each other in succession. Economic improvements have been slow to come and the promise of oil leaves many hoping for the current situation to change. President Fradique de Menezes is due to retire after serving since 2001. The politician with the most momentum going into the polls is Patrice Troavada, who became Prime Minister at the head of a government with a thin majority in August 2010. Troavada's Acção Democrática Independente took 26 of 55 seats, while De Menezes' Movimento Democrático das Forças da Mudança took only one.
Elections are planned for Egypt in September 2011 as the country awaits the fallout in the National Democratic Party's succession crisis. President Hosni Mubarak, 82, has not announced if he will run for a sixth term in office. His son, Gamal has taken on more responsibility and authority in the party, but the vested interests in the military and intelligence services could play a spoiler's role. Whoever is the ruling party's candidate will walk away with an easy victory, but how the NDP handles the situation will greatly affect the stability of the country in the next couple of years. Former International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohammed ElBaradei's return to the country and active politics had promised a sea change, but restrictive candidacy criteria make it nearly impossible for an independent politician to run for the presidency. In the long term, it is the influence of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood is the biggest political wild card.
President Yayha Jammeh is likely to face a united opposition in September's polls, but even that does not pose a real threat to his grip on power. The powers of incumbency are far too strong for the opposition to pose a challenge: limits on the freedoms and human rights violations mean that there is not a level playing field in the realm of politics in Gambia.
Cameroon presents another case where the power in place shows no signs of weakening ahead of October 2011 presidential elections. However, President Paul Biya is wary of the degrading security situation in the country and the popular discontent that was demonstrated at the cost-of-living protests in 2008. Pirate attacks near oil fields in Bakassi have increased and were recorded as far away as the commercial capital, Douala. The last several polls have featured a face-off between Biya and long-time opponent John Fru Ndi of the Social Democratic Front. Showing a proclivity for conciliatory and co-optive gestures, Biya made a landmark visit to Bamenda and visited Fru Ndi there in late 2010. The fundamental sources of their relative power have not shifted, so the 2011 polls are unlikely to return different results. As such, the SDF has said that it is contemplating an election boycott if it does not receive guarantees relating to the transparency and fairness of the polls. The management of the electoral body, Elections Cameroon, has been problematic since its founding in 2009.
Zambia is also heading for presidential polls in October, with President Rupiah Banda set to test the mettle of a united opposition front composed of Michael Sata and Hakainde Hichilema. Together, Sata's Patriotic Front and Hichilema's United Party for National Development took almost 60% of the national vote in presidential elections in 2008. At 73, it is probably Sata's last chance at the presidency, by UPND supporters are wary of having to file behind the combative opposition leader. Delays to the constitutional reform process may also delay the polls. On the table are proposals to change the voting system so that that a presidential candidate needs a 50% +1 majority to win.
Africa's first female president heads for a difficult re-election battle in October 2011, having first promised to be a one-term leader. Post-conflict reconstruction is as difficult as anyone in her government might have imagined and her Unity Party has been unable to deliver many changes to improve the lives of the the average citizens. Several foreign investors have promised to build big-ticket mines and infrastructure projects, but there have been few successes on the crucial essentials of daily life: jobs, electricity generation and water provision. She will meet footballer-cum-politician George Weah for a second time, but this time he is set to represent an alliance between his Congress for Democratic Change and Charles Brumskine's Liberty Party.
Kinshasa will host one of the year's last popular consultations. President Joseph Kabila wants to stay in power with as little frustration as possible and is now trying to push through a law that would eliminate the possibility of a run-off vote. He is the candidate with the strongest national following and thus stands to be the principal beneficiary of such a move. He came into power promising to end instability in the east and bring economic development. Even though he has not done so, his party's control of the electoral machinery is strong and should deliver him a victory.
The opposition is not united and the fate of one opposition leader continues to loom over the political scene. Kabila's rival in the 2006 polls was Mouvement de Libération du Congo leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, who is now on trial at the Hague for war crimes committed in the Central African Republic. The has left the MLC without a candidate of national stature. Vital Kamerhe, the former President of the National Assembly, would like to take up the banner as leader of the opposition, but he is more popular in the east, home to Kabila's support base. Oppositionist at the time of Mobutu Sese Seko, Etienne Tshisekedi has announced his candidacy. He has a strong following, but at 78, he will not be able to profit from the seems of youth discontent.
President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai have both said that they are keen to see the end of the ineffectual government of national unity which came into power after the disastrous 2008 polls. The deal was supposed to be something more than a way to end the electoral dispute, but it proved to be ineffective at that. Many of the terms of the Global Political Agreement were unimplemented and the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front and Movement for Democratic Change were perpetually unhappy to work together. Instead of forcing the parties to work together to transform the political system, the military hierarchy was untouched by reforms and the government was unable to find common ground on even the most unimportant of issues.
Zimbabwe is likely to hold to very important votes in 2011, one for a new constitution and one for national polls to replace the current government. A multi-party parliamentary committee is charged with working on the new constitution, but previous public consultations had devolved into violence. Neither of the parties have the two-thirds majority in parliament to pass the new fundamental law, so the result could either be a comprise deal or deadlock. Delays in the constitutional proceedings have already caused the postponement of of the ZANU-PF's plans to hold parliamentary polls in the first half of 2011. Polls without a new constitution would favour the ZANU-PF and strengthen its chances of intimidating its way to victory.