South Africans began voting on Wednesday in national elections which the ruling ANC, in power since 1994, is favourite to win despite corruption scandals, sluggish economic growth and record unemployment.
The ANC has won all five previous elections, and is tipped to come out on top again albeit with a reduced majority.
But the vote will be a test of whether its new leader, President Cyril Ramaphosa, can reverse growing dissatisfaction among South African voters.
“This is the first time that I am voting so I am happy to vote. Most of the people are not voting because they are afraid,” said Lala Rosetta Ramaoka, 21, before she cast her ballot at the Mponegele Primary School in Seshego, eastern Limpopo province.
Ramaphosa took over from corruption-accused Jacob Zuma who oversaw the ANC’s most significant drop in support since 1994.
He acknowledged on the eve of the election that “we are humble enough to admit our mistakes. We have taken decisive steps to fight corruption”.
The election comes 25 years after Nelson Mandela led the African National Congress to power in the country’s first multi-racial vote which marked the end of apartheid.
Support for the ANC has fallen in every election since 2004 with the party winning 54 percent in 2016 local elections, compared with 62 percent in 2014’s national vote.
Ramaphosa, 66, took office last year when Zuma was forced to resign as president by the ANC after nine years dominated by corruption allegations and economic problems.
Most opinion surveys suggest the ANC will secure nearly 60 percent of the vote on Wednesday, thanks to Ramaphosa’s appeal and a fractured opposition.
“It reflects the weakness of the opposition, more than it does reflect the achievements of the ANC,” said political scientist, Collette Schulz-Herzenberg from Stellenbosch University.
‘Not happy with the ANC’
The ANC has been confronted by deepening public anger over its failure to tackle poverty and inequality in post-apartheid South Africa.
“People are not happy with the ANC -but they are still voting for them,” retired teacher, Lockie Mans, 65, told AFP in Coligny in the North West province.
The economy grew just 0.8 percent in 2018 and unemployment hovers around 27 percent -and over 50 percent among young people.
Of the 47 opposition parties in the race, only the main opposition centrist Democratic Alliance (DA) and the radical-left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) are major players.
The DA hopes to shed its image as a white, middle-class party. Its first black leader, Mmusi Maimane is contesting his first general election since taking the helm in 2015, and is expected to make modest gains on 2014’s 22 percent vote share.
“Vote for the future of this country and the South Africans who are unemployed,” said Maimane after voting in Soweto, insisting the poll was not “a beauty pageant but a contract” between voters and their representatives.
‘Clean up this country’
“This vote is about competence… so we can clean up this country,” added Maimane who wore a suit in the DA’s signature blue and posed for selfies with voters.
Moxolo Gqetywa, 48, a mother-of-two who has been unemployed for five years, said she “will vote Mmusi -obviously”.
“He has promised us jobs. We want to be set free from this poverty.”
But the radical leftist, EFF, founded six years ago by former ANC youth leader, Julius Malema, is predicted to make major gains, growing from 6.3 percent to a forecast 11 percent.
The party, which appeals mainly to young voters and the poor, has campaigned on its policy of seizing land from largely white owners to give to poor blacks.
Enforced land redistribution is also an ANC policy -alarming some investors.
Some 26.8 million voters are registered to cast ballots at 22,925 polling stations.
Polls opened at 7:00 am (0500 GMT) and are due to close 14 hours later.
Early results will emerge on Thursday with an official winner declared on Saturday.
The party that wins most seats in parliament selects the president, who will be sworn in on May 25.
Aisha Buhari denounces Spokesman for conniving against her office
Another quake-like missile was thrown into the presidency when First Lady Aisha Buhari sent out a statement same early Wednesday warning a presidential Spokesman, Garba Shehu to stop smearing her image and interfering in her family issues after alleged sponsorship by a supposed cabal made up of President Buhari’s nephew, Mamman Daura.
“Based on Garba Shehu’s misguided sense of loyalty and inability to stay true and loyal to one person or group, it has become apparent that all trust has broken down between him and my family due to the many embarrassments he has caused the Presidency and the first family.”
The First Lady’s statement has further polarised Nigerians with major radio and TV stations including social media putting the discussions at the front burner and President Buhari taking the heat for “disorganising his government”. The President is currently on a visit to Egypt for the Aswan conference on sustainable peace and development.
Nigeria’s Buhari not bothered by description with a military rank over rights violations
News Outfit to address President Buhari as Major General and administration as
One of Nigeria’s major national dailies, The Punch newspaper has in a scathing editorial on Wednesday said it will henceforth refer to President Muhammadu Buhari with his military rank of Major General, despite his earlier retirement from the military, over rising violations of human rights. But Buhari’s handlers in a statement said they were not bothered.
It comes on a day when the President’s wife, Aisha Buhari also sent out a statement castigating a presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu for interference in her family’s activities through an act of disobedience to the office of the First Lady. Both events are the hottest topics in most cafés and public areas across the country.
The editorial with the headline “Buhari’s lawlessness: our stand” and published on Wednesday denounced last week’s invasion of a court premises in the capital, Abuja by Nigeria’s secret police, the SSS to arrest a pro-democracy activist and news publisher, Omoyele Sowore who had been granted bail after previously being held in illegal detention since August 22.
“As a symbolic demonstration of our protest against autocracy and military-style repression, PUNCH…will henceforth prefix Buhari’s name with his rank as a military dictator in the 80s, Major General, and refer to his administration as a regime, until they purge themselves of their insufferable contempt for the rule of law.”
The national daily said the “entire country and a global audience are rightly scandalised by the unfolding saga over Omoyele Sowore and the unruliness of the SSS and the government; but it is only a pattern, a reflection of the serial disregard of the Buhari regime for human rights and its battering of other arms of government and our democratic institutions.”
Buhari’s government reacts
The presidency was swift in its response with Spokesman, Femi Adesina in a statement saying that there was nothing wrong with the decision even though some of the accusations were unfair to President Buhari.
“A newspaper says it will henceforth address President Muhammadu Buhari by his military rank of Major General. Nothing untoward in it. It is a rank the President attained by dint of hard work before he retired from the Nigerian Army. And today, constitutionally, he’s also Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.” Adesina stated
Adesina went on to state that rather than being pejorative, addressing President Buhari by his military rank is another testimony to free speech and freedom of the press, which this administration (or regime, if anyone prefers: it’s a matter of semantics) has pledged to uphold and preserve.”
Despite the response, the daily said it will” not adopt the self-defeating attitude of many Nigerians looking the other way after each violation of rights and attacks on the citizens, the courts, the press and civil society, including self-determination groups lawfully exercising their inalienable rights to peaceful dissent.”
President Buhari had previously ruled Nigeria as a military leader between 1984 – 1985 after he took over from the coup that ousted the democratically elected government of late President Shehu Shagari in the Second Republic.
Then Major General Buhari ran a tight-fisted military junta in his bid to jail corrupt politicians with many of the accused persons jailed by military tribunals for over 100 years, in some circumstances. Many activists and journalists were not left out in the crackdown on dissent during that period.
Ironically, it was the same anti-corruption posture that got Buhari democratically elected in 2015 after his All Progressives Congress (APC) coalition defeated then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) due to agitations for the purging of corrupt politicians in the country.
The State Security Service (SSS) under President Buhari has recently been accused of high-handedness and serial abuse of court orders and Gestapo-style raid on residences of judges, parliamentarians and opposition leaders.
Leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Ibrahim el-Zakzakky and his wife have spent over three years in detention in violation of court orders granting them bail and ordering their release. A former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, has also been held in detention since 2015 in defiance of several court orders, including one by the ECOWAS appellate court that declared his continued incarceration illegal.
“Under Buhari, the SSS has become a monstrous and repressive secret police, acting often with impunity. Buhari bears responsibility for the state of repression because, as president, he can stop it today,” the Punch wrote.
The newspaper denounced Information and Culture Minister, Lai Mohammed, stating that he had suddenly forgotten “how, as opposition spokesman in 2014, he was harassed by the SSS and accused of “loitering.”(He has) been vigorously pressing for anti-hate speech laws to restrict social media. Abdullahi Sabi, a senator, along with others, has re-presented a hate-speech bill: their sole purpose is to insulate officials from criticism and compel unquestioned acceptance of Buhari’s draconian misrule.”
The national daily said it believes that “Buhari can still redeem himself and his out-of-control security agents and reclaim his past facade of tolerance.”
Nigerians divided over editorial
The editorial has since become a major subject of discussion among Nigerians with many people divided on the matter, including those in government.
Speaker of the regional Oyo State House of Assembly governed by the national opposition PDP, Honourable Adebo Ogundoyin in his reaction said:
“Today’s @MobilePunch editorial, its resolution to henceforth prefix @MBuhari with Major General & refer to his administration as a regime in protest against autocracy is another huge feat renewing our hope in the media as a strong voice ready to hold govt. accountable & responsible.”
Dr Thompson Udenwa called for caution by the newspaper. “Call him whatever you want, but no Nigerian leader in our most recent democracy has exemplified true respect for democracy and its institutions like President (Major General) Buhari has. #Thread”
Journalist Fisayo Soyombo said “Many of you are happy with @MobilePunch this minute, but what will you do if/when the lawless agents of this govt come after the paper and its editors? Will you look the other way, because you’re not in PUNCH’s employ, or will you be ‘alive’ enough to offer solidarity?”
One commentator even asked for the resignation of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, a Professor of law. Boye Steve wrote “This is a great and brave piece of editorial. We all need to stand up against this tyranny. I call on the VP, as a constitutional law professor, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, to resign from this despotic regime now.”
Two Algerian ex-Prime Ministers get heavy jail terms for corruption
An Algerian court has on Tuesday sentenced two former prime ministers to a long jail term in the first of a series of high-profile corruption trials launched after longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned in the face of mass protests in April.
The court ruling came just two days to Algeria’s presidential election to replace ousted Bouteflika
Former prime ministers Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal, who were both close to the ousted president, were sentenced to 15 years and 12 years respectively.
It was the first time since Algeria’s independence in 1962 that former prime ministers were put on trial.
The state prosecutor had sought 20-year prison sentences for the two ex-premiers.
In all, 19 defendants were tried on charges ranging from money laundering to abuse of office and granting undue privileges in the nascent vehicle assembly industry.
-‘Nepotism and favouritism’
The Algerian automotive sector got its start in 2014, via partnerships between foreign groups and large Algerian corporations, many of which are owned by businessmen linked to Bouteflika’s entourage.
One former industry minister, Abdeslam Bouchouareb, who is on the run abroad, was sentenced in absentia to 20 years. Two other former industry ministers, Mahdjoub Bedda and Youcef Yousfi, were handed 10-year terms.
Businessman Ali Haddad, founder and CEO of private construction firm ETRHB and former head of Algeria’s main employers’ organisation, was sentenced to seven years.
And three businessmen who own vehicle assembly plants — Ahmed Mazouz, Hassen Arbaoui and Mohamed Bairi — were sentenced to seven years, six years and three years respectively.
The prosecutor denounced a sector dominated by nepotism and favouritism, describing businessmen who “managed front companies while benefiting from undue tax, customs and land benefits”.
The automotive scandal cost the treasury more than 128 billion dinars (975 million euros), according to the official APS news agency.
Defence lawyers boycotted the trial, alleging the proceedings were “politicised” and impacted by a climate of “settling scores”.
The defendants protested their innocence and spent the trial shifting blame among themselves.
Before the court retired to deliberate, former prime minister Sellal broke down in tears and begged for leniency, saying, “I don’t have much time left to live.”
In closing remarks Sunday, the prosecutor said the trial sent the message that Algeria had changed this year and that “we are here to apply the will of the people”.
– ‘Children of the system’
But the high-profile prosecutions have done little to win over the protesters, who have continued to take to the streets since Bouteflika’s resignation, demanding the total dismantling of the military-dominated system that has ruled Algeria since independence.
Many fear the trials are little more than a high-level purge in a struggle between still-powerful regime insiders, rather than a genuine effort to reform the state.
The military high command, which has long wielded power from behind the scenes, has now been forced to take a visible, frontline role in government — but has rejected the demands of protesters and civil society for sweeping reforms.
It has paid little attention to popular calls to replace the constitution that served to legitimise Bouteflika’s grip on power.
Instead, the army has pushed for a swift election to pick a replacement for Bouteflika, saying it is the only route to resolving the political crisis.
While no opinion polls have been published, observers expect high levels of abstention, in keeping with previous elections in a political system seen by voters as rigid and unaccountable.
The five candidates in the poll have run low-key campaigns.
All are considered “children of the system”, having either supported Bouteflika or participated in his government — two as ministers and two as prime ministers.
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