Africa News blog
African business, politics and lifestyle
On the face of it, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir got the perfect election result.
His victory with 68 percent was not too high that it would spark concerns of fraud but high enough above the 50 percent needed for a win for him to be able fly in the face of the disapproving West.
Bashir is now the only elected sitting head of state wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.
But the path to victory was far from smooth.
Three weeks before what was promising to be an exciting electoral race, irregularities including a government printing press winning the contract to print ballot papers, sparked a wave of boycotts effectively ending any hope of a competitive presidential poll.
It all started so well… the lines of voters sheltering patiently in the shade from the sweltering heat to vote in Sudan’s first open polls in 24 years.
Many criticised the opposition for boycotting the vote, saying it was missing out on a national event.
In a shock unilateral announcement, the leading south Sudanese party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), withdrew its presidential candidate, Yasir Arman, and said it would also boycott elections on all levels in Darfur.
It paved the way for incumbent President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to win the April 11-18 polls. Arman was viewed as his main challenger, with much of south Sudan’s support – about 25 percent of the 16-million strong electorate.
It started with a small scuffle over a confiscated bag of protest banners outside Sudan’s parliament. And it ended in confrontations between baton-wielding police and protesters on the dusty streets of Omdurman.
At the finish, once the tear gas and protests leaflets had settled, just one victor emerged — in the propaganda stakes at least — the protesters from a loose alliance between south Sudan’s dominant Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and mostly northern opposition parties.
Gabon’s newly inaugurated President Ali Ben Bongo named his first government at the weekend, appointing a mix of old faces and relative unknowns. One of his main challengers for the presidency, Andre Mba Obame, began a hunger strike in protest at what many denounced as a fraudulent election, while other opposition figures faded back to the margins of political life.
The election again poses questions about the nature of opposition in West and Central Africa. Given the depth of genuine anti-Bongo feeling I observed on the streets of Libreville in the days before voting, the election in August represented a chance for a serious challenge to the Democratic Party of Gabon’s (PDG) longstanding hegemony, and a chance that was missed.
Six Ethiopian opposition parties have joined forces to go up against the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in next year’s parliamentary elections, but their chances of bringing change look slim at best and they complain of heavy-handed tactics by the ruling party.
The foremost opposition figure in Africa’s second most populous country, Birtukan Mideksa, a 34-year-old former judge, has been in solitary confinement since December. She was jailed after the first democratic poll in 2005, which ended in rioting that was bloodily suppressed, was pardoned in 2007 and rearrested last year after renouncing the terms of her pardon.
Tsvangirai vowed to rescue the stricken economy and called on the international community to help salvage the economy of Zimbabwe where unemployment is above 90 percent, prices double every day and half the 12 million population need food aid.
Is it just me, or is Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe starting to look more confident again? At the start of power sharing talks a few weeks back he appeared distinctly grim when he and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai had their historic handshake.
In the past few days he has been much more his old self, lambasting the West at a speech to commemorate the dead in the liberation war, giving a national honour to George Chiweshe, who organised elections that were condemned by much of the world, and generally upbeat during three days of talks that in the end delivered no result.
Mugabe’s victory in Friday’s one-candidate poll was condemned in the West and by all three African monitoring groups who said the vote was deeply flawed.