Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1310, (1 - 7 September 2016)
Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Issue 1310, (1 - 7 September 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Democratic tests

Both Gabon and Zambia went to the polls this month. In neither country is the result entirely clear, writes Haitham Nouri

Al-Ahram Weekly

Two African states, Gabon and Zambia, held elections in August. Despite their differences, both reached the same political impasse after supporters of the main opposition candidates refused to accept the results.

In Zambia, where elections were held on 11 August, the ruling party came out on top in all electoral races — for parliament, regional governors and city mayors. Nine candidates were running for president, but the real race was between Patriotic Front candidate Edgar Lungu, who has been in power since 2015 following the sudden death of President Michael Sata, and businessman Hakiande Hichilema, the leader of the United Party for National Development.

Two presidents have died in office in Zambia in the last decade. According to the Zambia Times, this presidential election was more like a referendum on Lungu, 59, a lawyer and the former minister of justice and minister of defence in the late Sata’s government.

Lungu’s base of support is in the capital, his home region in the eastern part of the country, and the copper mining region. Lungu is continuing Sata’s policy of keeping strong Chinese companies out of the copper sector.

His competitor, Hichilema, has a strong record in the private sector. One of the biggest businessmen in the country, his base of support is his home region in the south and among youth people. Despite some clashes between supporters of the two candidates and fears of low turnout among observers, polling stations in the capital of Lusaka saw high voter turnout, according to international media reports.

The independent committee supervising the election announced 16 August that the ruling party candidate had won the presidential race with just 70,000 votes, getting 50.35 per cent of votes. His competitor, who won 47.6 per cent of the vote, rejected the result and turned to the Constitutional Court. The remaining candidates won only two per cent of votes combined.

The petition has delayed the seating of the president. The Zambian constitution states that the president cannot be sworn in until a final judicial ruling is issued on any election-related petitions.

The Constitutional Court in Lusaka convened for the first hearing on the petition on Monday, 29 August, and is expected to rule within 14 days.

The opposition asked that the election committee be barred from destroying any materials related to the elections, including reports, ballots, ballot boxes and ballot counts.

Unlike many countries in Africa, Zambia saw no military coup or widespread violence that would impact elections.

Regardless of who the winner is, he will confront several complex economic issues, most importantly the drop in global copper prices, which has negatively affected the budget of the biggest copper-exporting state. The metal is used in particular in the electronics and electrical industry.

Like other countries in southern Africa, Zambia is also suffering from a drought which has influenced agricultural production. The country has also seen many workshops for the construction of dams and the development of railroads, all of which are extremely costly and are straining the state budget as it meets loan payments.

To the West, in oil-rich Gabon, the polling stations closed Saturday after three days of voting in the presidential elections. The competitive race pitted sitting President Ali Bongo against Jean Ping, the former chairperson of the Commission of the African Union. Nine other candidates were running as well.

President Bongo came to power in 2009 succeeding his father, Omar Bongo, who reached the presidency following a military coup in 1967.

As 30 August approached — the date the winner will be declared — both of the leading candidates claimed victory.

Early last week, Ping, 73, suggested he had won, saying, “Starting from today, Sunday, the blessed rains are falling on Libreville, as if announcing a new era for Gabon.”

He was more explicit a few hours later. Addressing his supporters and the media, he said, “I am the one. I expect the outgoing president to call me to congratulate me.” Bongo made no public statement about his victory. On Sunday evening, he called on his supporters to be patient saying, “We are waiting with confidence,” suggesting he was the victor.

With the drop in oil prices, Gabon faces many difficulties, but what angers youth is that the Bongo family has been in power for more than half a century without any concrete progress in the country known as the Kuwait of Africa.

Observers fear that if either side rejects the election results, violence may erupt that could shake the ironclad stability established by the late Omar Bongo. These fears are stoked by statements from the candidates’ camps. While the interior minister said that the elections were free and fair, the opposition says the process was marred by irregularities in some polling stations, even in the capital.

So far none of the bodies that observed the elections, including the UN, the African Union and the EU, have released full reports, though statements were made commending the overall smoothness of elections despite some legal infractions.

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