Commentary

Key elections to watch out for in 2017

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By Staff writer

In 2016, a public survey of elections released by the Pan-African research network Afrobarometer exhibited Africans distrusted national electoral commissions and the quality of their elections.

According to survey,  over 40% of Africans in 36 countries believed that the last elections in their country were free and fair; 25% said they trusted their electoral commissions “a lot”; and many described elections where bribery and rampant, media bias persisted, and voters were often threatened with violence at the polls.

President Paul Kagame will be seeking a third, seven-year term since winning the country’s second election in 2010 with 93% of the vote.

Dubbed as the “global elite’s favorite strongman” and the “darling leader,” Kagame is a media-savvy politician who uses his sleek website and over 1.5 million Twitter followers to publicize his message of progress and development.

President Kagame is also credited with transforming the small landlocked nation’s economic development, ‘boosting youth employment’ and trade, reducing poverty and advocating for technology as a tool for prosperity.

Hitherto, the country’s transformation under Kagame has come with a catch. Kagame is accused of gagging the press, restricting free speech, and silencing dissidents—in some cases, even allegedly assassinating opponents who fled to Uganda and South Africa.

Popularly elected in 2003 for a seven-year term and re-elected again in 2010, according to the then-new 2003 constitution, President Kagame was eligible to serve two seven-year terms.

The constitutional amendment allows President Kagame to stand for a third seven-year term in 2017. The amendments further delays the implementation of a change in presidential term limits to two five-year terms until Kagame finishes his term of seven years, to begin a new regime of five years extended only once which would extend his stay to 2034.

The opposition though not the ones in bed with the ruling party, challenged this interpretation, but the country’s Supreme Court dismissed the case. In his ruling, the Chief Justice Sam Rugege suggested that a referendum approving the amendments could definitively settle the matter.

Following petitions campaign by Kagame supporters encouraging a “yes” vote, majority of Rwandans voted overwhelmingly in favor of the amendments in a nationwide plebiscite in December 2015.

By early January 2016, much to the chagrin of Western nations including the U.S., President Barack Obama, Kagame officially announced “I can only accept” in his speech.

Even though Rwanda’s upcoming election will point more to the future of Rwanda than to its troubled past, the constitutional amendment allows Kagame to run for this new term and two more five-year terms after that, meaning that he could stay in power till 2034 when he will be 77 years old.

Some critical voices have criticized the law makers for designing constitutional amendment around Kagame as a person.

The controversial move is criticized by the international community and questions whether Kagame’s interest is fostering a new generation of leaders to take on the mantle of leadership.

“I don’t think that what we need is an eternal leader,” Kagame said when he announced his candidacy early last year. And in 2017, he will have to work hard to prove to his critics that he doesn’t count on being one.

With political rivalry suppressed under the guise of unity and national reconciliation under consensus principle and forum of political parties, and with fewer parties so far exhibiting the intent to challenge him for the top job, the route is properly approved for his continued stay in office.

This year, more African countries will pursue the democratic path by conducting presidential, legislative and municipal elections.

Yet elections across the continent are always markers of important democratic milestones and are followed closely by observers and citizens alike. In 2016, congratulations poured into Ghana after the country elected Nana Akufo-Addo as its new president.

Several incumbent presidents, including Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, Zambia’s Edgar Lungu and Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon all won re-election too—despite protests from opposition members, violence, and internet shutdowns.

And after 22 years in power, The Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh, who once said he will rule for “one billion years” conceded defeat live on television, only to reject the outcome of the elections a few days later prompting regional intervention [ECOWAS] which negotiated his way out.

Already in Somalia, over 281 lawmakers have been sworn in—they are 347 legislators in total—who kicked things off in Somalia by voting former Prime Minister who has dual Somali-.U.S. Citizenship, Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, won the presidency after two rounds of voting by members of parliament. He beat incumbent President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who conceded and avoided the need of a third round.

The last few weeks of 2016 saw three major electoral developments in Sub-Saharan Africa. First was on December 1, when Gambians ousted 22-year incumbent President Yahya Jammeh at the ballot box. His loss was not as surprising as his rather swift concession to president-elect Adama Barrow.

Editor’s Note: To be continued in our next article.

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