By Paul Ndiho
The International Foundation for Electoral Systems says that at least 10 African nations will hold general elections in 2019. What’s really at stake as these countries use the ballot to deepen the quality of democratic governance?
Tens of millions of people are expecting to vote in more than 10 African nations in 2019, according to the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, a Washington DC-based independent organization that supports citizens’ right to participate in free and fair elections in more than 145 countries.
Nigerian voters were scheduled to cast their ballots in the nation’s presidential and parliamentary elections on February 16th. But, just five hours prior to the polls opening, the country’s Independent National Electoral Commission announced a one-week delay in the vote to Saturday, February 23th. The commission blamed logistical difficulties, including problems in the distribution of ballot and results sheets, as well as sabotage, after three fires at its offices in the last two weeks.
“This was a difficult decision for the commission to take but necessary for the successful delivery of elections and the consolidation of our democracy,”
The two main political parties swiftly accused each other of orchestrating the delay as a way of manipulating the vote, a sentiment echoed by some voters, many of whom had traveled long distances to vote in their hometowns.
Political observers are predicting a tight race between incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari and his chief challenger, former vice-president Atiku Abubakar. Buhari, 75, has been in office since 2015. But his critics say he has failed to deliver on some of the promises he made like stamping out corruption.
In Senegal, voters head to the polls on February 24th where incumbent President Macky Sall is facing four other primary challengers. President Sall, 57, was first elected in 2012, taking the helm of one of West Africa’s most prosperous and stable countries.
Two opposition leaders, former Dakar mayor Khalifa Sall and ex-minister Karim Wade are barred from running due to previous convictions for misuse of public funds. Thousands of supporters of both former candidates have staged protests in recent months calling for fair and transparent elections, while challenging the impartiality of the justice and interior ministries. The former French colony is seen as a model of democracy in the region, having never experienced a coup — and successfully staging peaceful transfers of power in 2000 and 2012.
The stakes are high in South Africa as voters gear-up for general elections on May 8th. The ruling African National Congress party is looking to reverse its declining popularity due to weak growth, unemployment, and corruption. The opposition has latched onto ANC corruption as an election trump card. The ANC, which has ruled since 1994, is facing a tough fight to retain its dominance — and is proposing constitutional changes to address land rights issues. The far-left South Africa Economic Freedom Fighters party has land expropriation and jobs at the top of its election agenda.
Malawians are expected to cast their ballots in tripartite elections on May 21st. Voters will select a President, Members of Parliament and local Councilors. This election pits incumbent President Peter Mutharika, of the Democratic Progressive Party against his former Vice President Saulos Chilima. Political observers say Chilima is seen as the biggest threat to Mutharika. Meanwhile, former president Joyce Banda has also joined the race after reversing a decision to join an alliance with the opposition the former Vice President. Her announcement earlier this month could be a game changer.