Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A "belly" of elections

At a loss of the appropriate term to describe the numerous elections and transitional governments that have characterized the African scene just now, I decided to borrow from the concept of collective nouns that has standard terms for particular groups of things, animals and so on, like a knot of toads, a parliament of owls, a congregation of alligators etc.  I call it a “belly” of elections though to emphasize the number and frequency at which elections have occurred, considering that the “belly” stows a lot of things literarily and figuratively.

I start off with Mali where there was a heated debate on the political scene as to whether or not the election should hold, owing to the strong possibility that it may not give the desired effect. Within a very short time, Mali went through a lot of trauma, which rendered a state that was once known for its serenity, stable but somewhat imperfect democracy as well as its position as some sort of cultural capital being home to notable historical sites and artifacts that are under UNESCO, into something of a “ghost town”.

The economy, society and political stage came under threat, first upturned by a Military coup, then harassed by insurgents, and then further demoralized by extremists who threatened to split the country into two, which resulted in a transitional government that didn’t quite gain its place as an institution of authority over the populace. Everything happened very fast, but the people were resilient in their hope, having tried all these forms of leadership within the shortest possible space of time, they still believed that the election was their last chance at the unity and serenity they once enjoyed.  Experts on Mali kept asking if election was the automatic solution to all the woes that befell this small country, more depressing on the subject of change was also the fact that majority of the 27 candidates had served in almost all the regimes - previous and present. Nevertheless this did not deter the Malians, they flooded the polling stations and completed a peaceful round of voting and now the stage is set for the 2nd round with Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and Soumaila Cisse going head to head! But then again, the question still hovers, what comes next?

I now head to Zimbabwe which happens to be more theatrical, where the legislature amended the country’s constitution, and the citizens accepted it in a referendum which got the support of the two sides sharing the country’s power. Another debate ensued about when to set the election date; the opposition MDC wanted reforms before a date was set but President Robert Mugabe in his characteristic manner insisted on the 31st of July, he even threatened to withdraw Zimbabwe’s membership from the regional bloc SADC not minding that it is the lifeline of its ailing economy. Mr. Mugabe and his ZANU PF party pride themselves with having the support of the rural populace who fit the description of the ordinary man that every politician tries to empathize with. However, two issues take center stage, it was alleged that the voter roll disenfranchised a lot of voters, and in the same breath, it was confirmed that all rural eligible voters were registered as such those who had problems of disenfranchisement were mainly middle class urban voters who support Tsvangirai’s MDC. The African Union observers led by Olusegun Obasanjo former president of Nigeria did not deny that there were irregularities in the vote, but they submitted that they were not enough to render it dishonest and unfair. So I wonder how much of a threat is the urban middle class to Mugabe?

The situation in Egypt and Tunisia is frightful, in spite of the loss of lives in especially Egypt, there isn’t a sign of respite In an article he wrote in the TIME magazine on the 12th of July 2013 titled “Egypt must reach out to the Islamists it is now jailing” Fareed Zakaria who hosts the programme GPS on CNN international made the following remarks

Look at the world from the perspective of someone who embraces Islamic politics. In 1991, Islamists won in national elections in Algeria that were free and fair, with dozens of parties contesting and an open and lively campaign. The Algerian military annulled the results and unleashed a campaign of arrests and violence against the party that won. In 1995, Islamists won the elections in Turkey, only to have the Turkish military force the party out of power two years later in what is often referred to as a “soft coup.” In 2006, Hamas won Palestinian ­elections—triggering a boycott of the newly elected government by the U.S. and most of its allies. In Egypt, the Brotherhood won at the polls three times. It won in the parliamentary elections, in the presidential election and then in its referendum for the new constitution, which passed with 64% of the vote. Last year a judge dissolved the lower house of parliament, and now the constitution has been suspended and the President is in jail.
As we wait to see the outcome of the standoff in Egypt right now, one can't help but contemplate the future of democracy in the Arab world, however, what role can we give to lessons learnt in order to have a way forward?
Wishing IBK in Mali the best of luck





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