Mali – Four candidates lead the race to the presidency. If all goes according to plans, on 29 April Malians will vote, confirming the stability of democracy twenty years after the army overthrew General Moussa Traore’s despotic government. President Amadou Toumani Toure will step down in May as required by the constitution. The most dynamic campaign has been led by Ibrahim Boubacar Ke’ita, a former prime minister with a reputation of being a firm and serious leader.
The president of the National Assembly, Dioncounda Traore, enjoys the backing of Mali’s most powerful political force – the Democratic Alliance – but grassroots support is week. The Union for the Republic and Democracy supports Souma’ila Cisse who has run for president before. Former prime minister Modibo Sidibe is the fourth candidate with some chances, even though he has no political party behind him.
For all its good will, the government had to admit that the next elections could be a flowed exercise because the electoral rolls are in a terrible state and barely reflect the people who are eligible to vote. Already political commentators express the view that a close call would delegitimize whoever appears to have won.
Yet, the real menace comes from the north, where the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad has staged attacks against military barracks. The group is formed mainly by Tuareg fighters – many of whom just returned from Libya where they fought for Colonel Khadafy – who ask for more autonomy for their region. Malians are starting to wonder whether the government can hold elections if vast areas of the country cannot be reached and people will be prevented from voting.
Angola – Ten years ago, Angolan troops – aided by Portuguese and US experts – attacked and killed Jonas Malheiro Savimbi, leader of UNITA. The party has struggled to evolve from a guerrilla movement to a democratic peacetime opposition. It held 70 seats in the war-time unity government, after the 2008 election it holds just 16 out of 220 seats in parliament.
UNITA lacks the wide popular support and the financial backing that could help it fighting effectively against the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) now in power. The MPLA has a tight control over most of the country’s business and both the state and private media, which it uses to bolster its image and tarnish UNITA’s.
It is not clear what UNITA will do to improve its presence in Parliament when the country will go to the polls later this year. Some say that the party is in disarray. Isaias Henrique Ngola Samakuva has led the party since 2003, when he defeated Abel Epalanga Chivukuvuku in the first leadership contest after Savimbi’s death. Chivukuvuku never stopped challenging Samakuva and he might now leave UNITA to set up his own party.
At the party congress last December, Samakuva easily defeated one opponent and remains in control of UNITA. Winning the polls will be another matter. Kamalata Numa, the secretary general, resigned the post over disagreements with Samavuka, another sign of division and lack of vision. Nevertheless, Samakuva is putting on a brave face and told journalists that the fact people were openly discussing their views proved UNITA was a democratic and open party. “Where there is democracy, we have to accept different views”, he said. “I do understand this is not normal in Angola. There are no divisions in our party, but where there is democracy people can choose to do and say something else”. Beautiful words in President Dos Santos ears. Dos Santos has been more than three decades in power and, with enemies like these, is certain to hold on for a few more years.
Kenya – After the botched general election in 2007, Kenya is preparing for a new poll to choose the next president and government. The new Constitution, approved in 2011, calls for elections to be held in August, but MPs are not willing to give up their seats in advance. According to the older system, their term expires on December. Kenya’s High Court ruled recently that elections could be pushed back to March, 2013.
The issue is delicate. In 2007, violence followed the elections, amidst mutual accusations of vote rigging. More than 1,000 people died and about 300,000 were displaced. The International Criminal Court in The Hague is now prosecuting five of the instigators of that violence, among them politicians who wish to run in the next elections.
The issue arise from a contrast between the Constitution, which calls for election on August every five years, and the agreement between political parties on the aftermath of the violence. The power sharing deal is based on the condition that Parliament should have a full five year term. The question is more important than many are ready to accept. Traditionally, Kenyans voted during the last week of December, when a majority of the population leaves the urban areas to stay a few days with relatives upcountry. In this way, many eligible voters cannot cast their vote. This allowed local barons to control voters and organize rigging, especially in urban areas. If elections are held in August, most powerful politicians would lose their powerbase, leaving results open to uncertainty. Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, complained that, just a year after the Constitution was approved, “institutions and leaders play fast and loose with constitutional deadlines”. Even though a repeat of the 2007 violence is unlike, many are already worrying about the mounting tension the political world is generating.