Southern African News Features                                           SANF 09 No 07, February 2009
2009 a busy year for elections in southern Africa

Seven countries in southern Africa are preparing to hold elections in 2009.

These range from presidential and parliamentary elections through provincial and local government elections.

Polls are due to be held in Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa.

First up is South Africa, which is holding national and provincial legislative elections on 22 April. Presidential elections are also expected in Angola in April. Malawi follows with presidential and parliamentary elections on 19 May.

The countries have very different electoral systems. In South Africa, the president is not directly elected, but is chosen by Members of Parliament following their election. Therefore, the leader of the majority party in parliament can be expected to become the president of the country.

The South African contest is sharpened by the split in the African National Congress (ANC) that produced the Congress of the People (Cope), comprising some high-profile former ANC members, although the latter did not do as well as they expected in recent by-elections.

South Africa uses a system of Proportional Representation in which candidates are elected on party lists, rather than representing individual constituencies. Malawi uses the constituency system known as “first past the post”.

In Malawi, the president is elected directly by the voters, and competition for the top job is fierce this time around, with three heavyweights contesting, including the current President Bingu wa Mutharika, the former president Bakili Muluzi, and a long-time aspirant, John Tembo, who was a close associate of the founding president, Hastings Kamuzu Banda.

All have selected high-profile running mates for vice-president, with the incumbent selecting a woman cabinet minister, Muluzi picking a close associate, and for Tembo the surprise selection of Brown Mpinganjira, a former minister who had split from Muluzi’s party to establish his own.

Voter registration is underway and ten political parties are expected to contest the election. The last presidential election in 2004 was won by Mutharika, whose term has been characterized by economic successes, including a bumper harvest, in tandem with the political chaos that marred the sittings of parliament after Mutharika broke away from Muluzi’s party, the United Democratic Front.

The Malawi Electoral Commission is eager to avoid problems in May, as the 2004 election drew opposition complaints about irregularities in the voter’s roll and a delay in announcing the results.

The presidential elections in Angola are also expected to take place in April but the date has not been announced. Legislative elections held in September 2008 were won by the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), which received 82 percent of the vote in a landslide victory.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Election Observer Mission (SEOM) said the elections were conducted in “an open, transparent and professional manner.”

The opposition National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita) conceded defeat, paving the way for political and economic recovery. These were the first elections in 16 years, since Unita returned to the bush after losing the presidential election in 1992.

For the presidential election this year in Africa’s leading oil-producing country, the incumbent, Jose Eduardo dos Santos has been confirmed as the candidate for MPLA, while Isaias Samakuva will represent Unita.

Other presidential and parliamentary elections will be held later this year in Botswana, Mozambique and Namibia, as well as the presidential election in the DRC.

For Botswana, which uses a constituency system, it will be the first time President Ian Khama faces the electorate as head of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party, although the party of his father, Seretse Khama, has not lost an election since independence in 1966.

Presidential and parliamentary elections will be held in Namibia in November, and the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) have confirmed as their candidate the incumbent President Hifikepunye Pohamba, now completing his first term in office.

SWAPO is popular in Namibia with a track record of winning every election since 1989 with more than 70 percent of the votes. Pohamba won with 78 percent of the votes in the previous election in 2004, the third since independence in 1990.

In the November 2009 election, the Congress of Democrats will be represented by Ben Ulenga, and the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) have confirmed as their candidate, Hidipo Hamutenya. Both are former SWAPO officials, Ulenga coming from the trade union movement and Hamutenya from the liberation struggle.

In Mozambique, the Central Committee of the ruling Frelimo party has confirmed President Armando Guebuza as its candidate for the December presidential election.

Guebuza was first elected in December 2004 with 64 percent of the vote after defeating his adversary Afonso Dhlakama of the Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO) party who drew 30 percent of the vote.

The Central Committee gave strong support to Guebuza saying that his time in office has been marked by “pragmatism, dialogue, discipline, stern planning and permanent interaction with the people.” Guebuza has visited all provinces and most districts of the country in the past year.

Both Mozambique and Namibia use Proportional Representation, although the method is slightly different.

Zimbabwe has finally closed the chapter on its disputed 2008 presidential elections with a SADC-brokered solution, facilitated by the former South African president, Thabo Mbeki, leading to the swearing in of an inclusive government and a new joint cabinet comprising ministers from the three main political parties.

For the SADC Secretariat, which organizes the official regional election observer missions, the number of elections means that 2009 will be a very busy year, in addition to the implementation of the Free Trade Agreement and the advanced tempo of preparations for the 2010 soccer World Cup to be held in South Africa next year.

SADC Member States, building upon their common historical and cultural identity, developed and approved in 2005 their own “Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections”. The 2005 elections in Zimbabwe and the United Republic of Tanzania were the first to use these principles and guidelines.

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