Three presidential polls in five months

For the region, key issues in the national elections that take place in DRC, Madagascar and Zambia centre on the fulfillment of the 2004 Southern African Development Community electoral guidelines that set the standards for the consolidation of democracy.

There is also a challenging issue of gender equity and the maintenance of sustainable peace that has been witnessed in the last decade throughout the region.

The SAD Principles and Guidelines governing democratic elections were adopted by the Summit of the Heads of State and Government in August 2004 at Grand Baie, Mauritius.

The guidelines have since been tested in countries such as Mauritius, United Republic of Tanzania and Zimbabwe that had elections in 2005.

As the region moves to correct gender imbalances especially in areas of decision making, more and more women are encouraged to vie for positions as political leaders.

In DRC, five women have already paid the nomination fee pegged at US$50,000 to challenge President Joseph Kabila in the forthcoming polls.

The women who will contest presidency are Florentine Bonza Mokanda of the Convention of the Christian Democrats (CCD), Justine Kasavubu M’poyo who heads the Democrats Movement and Marie-Therese N’landu who will contest on the Party for Peace in Congo (CONGO Pa) ticket.

The other female candidates are Wiviene N’landu of the Union for Defence of the Republic (UDR) and Catherine Marthe wa Mbombo Nzuzi of the Popular Movement of the Revolution (PMR).

Kabila is leading a transitional government that was put together via a 2003 peace agreement signed in South Africa initially planned to end in June last year but parliament extended its mandate to allow for more time to prepare for elections.

The Independent Electoral Commission has enrolled over 20 million eligible voters from a total population of 60 million.

Democracy took a historic step forward when President Kabila promulgated a new electoral law in May that set the initial date of elections for 18 June but were postponed to 30 July following a request from the electoral commission for more time to prepare for the exercise.

This will be the first democratic election coming after more than 40 years since independence from Belgium in 1960.

Madagascar will hold its presidential elections on 3 December after the High Court accepted a proposal by the government to have the polls a few weeks than earlier planned.

Prime Minister Jacques Sylla wrote a letter to the High Court explaining the government’s position and seeking the court’s opinion on the matter.

Government said it wished to hold elections earlier to avoid disruption due to bad weather and sought the court’s position on whether the adjustment to the date would violate the constitution.

Madagascar’s highest court ruled that there was no constitutional obstacle to holding the elections on 3 December instead of within the 22 December to 22 January 2007 window that was proposed earlier.

President Marc Ravalomanana took over the presidency in 2002 after an eight-month power struggle with his rival Didier Ratsiraka who had proclaimed himself President.

This divided the Indian Ocean island into two governments, two armies and other structures before Ratsiraka withdrew to restore order in the country.

Though non-violent, the 2002 crisis lasted eight months and crippled economic activity on the huge Indian Ocean island, the world’s highest vanilla producer and Africa’s third biggest exporter of textiles to the United States.

Zambia is also expected to hold elections later this year. President Levy Mwanawasa is facing a stiff challenge from two opposition alliances and another party, the Patriotic Front in the presidential elections expected towards year-end.

The strongest opposition political parties have formed two separate alliances to oppose Mwanawasa.

The United Democratic Alliance will field one presidential candidate while parliamentary seats will be shared equally among the three parties.

The alliance involves the United National Independence Party (UNIP) – the liberation party formed by first post-independent President, Kenneth Kaunda – the United Party for National Development and the Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD).

The three parties jointly command 65 seats in the 150-member National Assembly while the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy has 79 seats. UNIP is under the leadership of Kaunda’s son, Tilyanji.

The FDD is headed by Edith Nawakwi, the only female opposition leader so far.

Nawakwi served as a cabinet minister under immediate past president, Fredrick Chiluba.

The other alliance involves the Zambia Republican Party, headed by former defence minister, Ben Mwila, the Reform Party of former vice president Nevers Mumba, the Party for Unity, Democracy and Development and the Zambia Democratic Congress.

The four parties have formed the National Democratic Focus (NDF). Mwila was elected NDF presidential candidate at the alliance’s national convention held from 17-18 June.

Preliminary campaigns have been dominated by the constitutional debate with demands that the first-past-the-post system of electing the president be scrapped from the constitution to ensure that a president is elected via a 50-percent-plus-one vote majority system.

Under the current law, the presidential candidate is declared winner with a simple majority victory.

President Mwanawasa has insisted that the demand is genuine but is a constitutional issue, which will be dealt with after the elections when the constitution will be finalised.

The civil society accuses Mwanawasa of reneging on a promise to ensure that the constitution is ready before elections.

Government has formulated a new electoral law that also provides for transparent ballot boxes.

The opposition say the new law has failed to address some of their demands.

The group’s main source of objection to the new law is that it empowers the president — and not the electoral commission — to set the election date, and does not include the requirement that a presidential candidate be elected with the 50-percent-plus-one vote.

Mwanawasa says the republican constitution is silent on the issue, and he would maintain the precedent set by past presidents to announce the date of the elections in consultation with the Electoral Commission of Zambia.

Angola is also fast-tracking preparations for its first post-war elections, which will consolidate current gains from economic and political stability and set the country firmly on a path to sustainable peace and economic growth.

The elections are unlikely to take place this year as government is still registering voters and preparing for all the necessary logistics.

June 2006
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