A year of elections

Ruling parties romped to victory in five elections held in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) last year, which also ushered in the end of the presidential terms of two liberation stalwarts — Sam Nujoma of Namibia and Joachim Chissano of Mozambique. Their voluntary departure has, however, been overshadowed by challenges to the election results.

Mozambique’s opposition Renamo Party refused to accept December’s defeat at the hands of Frelimo. Election observers too have raised concerns about the low voter turnout, that 43 polling stations did not open due to logistical problems and that observers were not allowed access to vote tabulation centres.

In Namibia two opposition parties two weeks ago filed a court application to have the November polls declared null and void or to have ballots recounted.
After reviewing 60 000 pages of election documentation, the parties said they had found discrepancies.

In May Bingu Mutharika succeeded Bakili Muluzi as Malawi’s president, but the election was marred by irregularities on the voters roll which the Eisa election observer mission said “opened up the process to double voting”.

Women’s representation in government was reduced after Botswana’s poll in October, which was characterised by voter apathy. Announcing the election date just more than a month before the ballot earned Botswana a “free and fair with room for improvement” rating from Eisa.

The African National Congress consolidated its power, garnering 70% of the vote, in April.

South Africa took the chair of the SADC organ on politics, defence and security in August when guidelines on elections were adopted.

Regional leaders have pressured Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to participate in next March’s ballot but the party’s leadership has complained that electoral reforms introduced by President Robert Mugabe do not fully comply with the SADC guidelines. They also want repressive laws relating to the media and civil society and those limiting freedom of association, scrapped. The MDC will decide early next year whether the “political environment” is conducive to contesting the poll.

Tanzania, Mauritius and the Democratic Republic of Congo are also scheduled to hold elections this year.

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