All eyes on DRC, Zim and Swazi as countries head for polls
By Magreth Nunuhe
Windhoek – All eyes are fixed on Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Kingdom of Swaziland as they are set to hold general elections in 2018.
Last year saw a surprising political transition in Zimbabwe when long-serving President Robert Mugabe stepped down after a 37 year reign amid pressure from the military and impending parliamentary impeachment.
Emmerson Mnangagwa was installed as President of Zimbabwe on 24 November 2017 to serve out the remaining term of Mugabe, which was to end in August 2018.
The ruling ZANU-PF has since picked Mnangagwa as the party’s preferred candidate in the 2018 elections.
Mnangagwa, a former ally of embattled Mugabe, was a senior member of the ruling ZANU–PF party and served as First Vice President of Zimbabwe from 2014 until his dismissal in November 2017, which prompted a military intervention.
The incumbent has promised a free and fair election likely in or before August as Zimbabweans look to the future with optimism for democratic transformation and governance.
The Parliament of Zimbabwe consists of two chambers: the Senate and the House of Assembly. The Senate is the upper chamber of the country’s bicameral parliament, while the House of Assembly is the lower chamber.
According to Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, 75 political parties have registered with the body to contest the 2018 elections.
Free elections could be what Zimbabwe needs to attract foreign investment and strengthen the country’s economy, which has been on a tailspin for a long time.
Elections have been held every five years since 1980.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is confronted with worrying signs of protracted violence amid pressure for President Joseph Kabila to step down.
The DRC was scheduled to hold general elections on 27 November 2016 to find a successor to Kabila, who had served his two full terms with the final term having expired on 20 December 2016.
Elections were delayed until the end of December 2017, but never took place as scheduled – a situation which has agitated the opposition to reject and demand for the immediate removal of Kabila.
Now the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) has announced December 2018 as the likely date for the delayed presidential, legislative, regional and local elections to take place.
CENI says it anticipates a new president to take office by 12 January 2019.
Repeated election delays brewed frustration and protests which led to deadly counteraction by military forces which saw dozens of people killed in 2016 in protests against Kabila’s refusal to step down at the end of his term.
The opposition sees the continued election delays as Kabila’s plot to hold on to power, while repressing protests and violating human rights of its citizens.
Parts of the country are in the hands of insurgents who say they will not stop fighting while he remains in power.
Kabila succeeded his father Laurent Kabila, who was assassinated in 2001.
There are over 400 political parties in the DRC, most of them located in the capital city of Kinshasa, with an opposition heavily fractured and unable to unite under a single candidate who can mount a serious and effective campaign against the incumbent.
The United Nations has condemned the rising insecurity, violence and worsening human rights violations that could further plunge the country into total chaos.
The ongoing inter-ethnic violence in the Kasai Region in the centre of the DRC is particularly worrying since violence there broke out in August 2016 between a local militia group and the national security services.
The world body has called for a successful political transition underpinned by free, fair and inclusive elections.
The Kingdom of Swaziland
Although many SADC countries have adopted regular multiparty elections, there is some consensus that liberal democracy must blend in with African cultural practices and traditions as is the case with Swaziland, the last absolute monarch in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Elections are scheduled to take place sometime this year in Swaziland, but King Mswati III will set the date for the poll.
Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and only Mswati’s subjects are allowed to pick 55 of the 65 members of the House of Assembly; the other 10 are appointed by the king.
None of the 30 members of the Swazi Senate are elected by the people; the king appoints 20 members and the other 10 are appointed by the House of Assembly.
The king also chooses senior civil servants and top judges.
Mswati’s father, by King Sobhuza II, suspended the country’s constitution in 1968 which gave absolute power to the monarchy and banned organised political opposition to royal rule.
The People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), the best-known opposition group in the kingdom along with other groups that advocate for democracy in the kingdom, are banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.
The Parliament of Swaziland (or Libandla) is bicameral, consisting of a lower chamber (the House of Assembly) and an upper one (the Senate). Some of the members of both chambers are elected, while the rest are appointed by the king.
Historic transitional elections in SADC in 2017
Commendable changes have been made by some SADC states towards democratic governance in 2017 in response to internal popular pressure and backing from the international community.
These changes have had fundamental alterations resulting in historic transitional elections.
Lesotho held elections on 3 June 2017, which saw the country’s main opposition leader, Thomas Thabane, being elected as the Prime Minister.
Thabane’s All Basotho Convention won 48 parliamentary seats while rival, former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, only secured 30 seats.
Mosisili was ousted after a successful no-confidence vote bid.
A coalition government is under way.
In Angola, after 38 years in power, President Jose Eduardo dos Santos stepped down in 2017 and was succeeded by Joao Lourenco, the former defence minister.
The People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) won the parliamentary elections with 61.1 percent (150 of 220 parliamentary seats in the National Assembly) of the vote against the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola’s (UNITA) 2.7 percent
The MPLA and UNITA fought on opposing sides in a 27-year civil war that ended in 2002. João Lourenço is now Angola’s third president.
ANC, SWAPO and ZANU-PF
South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe’s ruling parties, the African National Congress (ANC), SWAPO and ZANU-PF held elective congresses before the end of 2017.
SWAPO, which has maintained political dominance since coming to power in 1990 at independence, elected incumbent country President Hage Geingob as the party’s president, while the ANC’s Cyril Ramaphosa was chosen as that party’s president, replacing Jacob Zuma.
With no meaningful opposition in sight, Geingob is most likely to become head of state for the next five years after his first term ends in 2019.
In contrast, ANC’s support base has weakened, which could see Ramaphosa tussle it out against a solidifying opposition.
In the 2016 local government elections, the ANC garnered only 54 percent of the vote – a spectacle that should have the ruling party worried as only 16 months remain for the next general elections.
ZANU-PF elected Mnangagwa to replace Mugabe at its congress in December and he will represent the ruling party in elections likely to be held in August.
l Additional reporting: News24, Africa News, The Conversation, Channel Africa and brookings.edu