HomeBusiness DigestAfrican elections — a tale of two worlds

African elections — a tale of two worlds

The year 2014 is a major election year for Africa with more than 10 nations going for both parliamentary and presidential polls. Some of the nations to go to the polls are Botswana, Libya, Nigeria, Namibia, South Africa, Malawi and Egypt.

Victor Makanda

During this month of May, the electorate in South Africa and Malawi have already decided through the ballot, whilst the process to elect a new Egyptian president began on May 25 after the ouster of Mohamed Morsi earlier this year.

An examination of the recently released election results from South Africa and Malawi reveals a tale of two worlds and how it subsequently impacts on economic growth and credit rating by foreign nations.

In South Africa, Africa’s second largest economy by gross domestic product, the African National Congress (ANC) brushed off political scandals and economic discontent to win a fifth consecutive election.

The results disclosed that the ANC had a 62, 2% share of the vote, down from the 65, 9% it won in 2009, according to the national election commission. Some 16 million voters cast their votes in South Africa out of some 25 million registered voters whilst the total population is estimated at around 51 million.

The election result guaranteed a second five-year term for President Jacob Zuma. Its leading opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, was on 22, 2%, up from 16, 6% at the last elections.

Malawi, on the other hand, with about 7 million voters failed to come up with a substantive outcome. Current president Joyce Banda annulled the just held presidential, parliamentary and local council elections.

She cited section 82 (2) of the constitution that provides that the president shall ensure executive leadership in the interests of national unity and ordered fresh elections in the next 90 days.

Widespread electoral fraud and irregularities were the reasons for her decision. Legal and constitutional experts consequently asserted that the president has no mandate under the Malawian constitution to invalidate any poll despite calling for a re-run in 90 days while she herself will not stand as a candidate in the new election.

Unofficial results based on last week’s vote showed Joyce Banda trailing in third place in the presidential race.

Whilst both incumbent presidents went into elections mired in corruption scandals, South Africa managed to hold credible elections.

In the case of President Joyce Banda, her reputation was dented by a scandal that saw government officials and politicians siphoning millions of taxpayer dollars through a porous government payment system that became known as Cashgate.

No stranger to scandal, Zuma was also mired in controversial upgrades to his private residence that cost South African taxpayers millions of dollars.

Comparing the electoral processes in the two countries may seem a waste of time. Nonetheless, South Africa’s polls have been regarded as relatively peaceful and smooth despite having a larger electorate compared to Malawi.

The difference was how the whole process was handled and the level of preparedness. Speculation in Malawi was rife in the run-up to election day that polling might have to be postponed because of lack of preparedness of the Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec). The voters’ register was only printed the day before elections. It also emerged that insufficient ballot papers had been printed.

A hasty decision was taken to print more ballot papers locally than had been printed in South Africa. Only about 25% of polling stations had managed to open by 9 am when polling was officially designated to start at 6 am.

In addition, most polling stations did not have adequate materials such as indelible ink, copies of the voters’ register, ballot papers, ballot boxes and seals, and pens. Some folks who had queued from as early as 4 am were only able to vote at 2 pm.

Polling had to be halted in some polling stations due to rioting by impatient voters. Polling had to be extended beyond the initial 6 pm deadline and in some polling centres by an extra two days. By contrast the process in South Africa, though not flawless, was much better and subsequently led to an acceptable electoral outcome.

To sum it up, African nations may need to focus on improving the electoral process and credibility of polls as a way of addressing the ever-present economic challenges. This is because the turmoil that is currently being witnessed in Malawi may most likely see growth slowing down.

Malawi had registered a 5% growth rate in 2013 up from 2% in 2012. With political instability set to possibly escalate, periods of higher growth rates may soon be over for Malawi.

This is explained mainly by the fact that the country is donor-driven hence an acceptable outcome could see them pulling back. Also, investors always shy away from such countries relative to those that hold credible polls.

A sharp contrast with South Africa where foreign investors gave a green light with the Moody’s ratings agency citing the ANC’s decisive victory in the general election as “credit positive” for South Africa. Such a feat will, to a certain extent, bolster its economy as it endeavours to address its economic challenges chief among them high unemployment, budget deficits and labour unrest.

Only time will tell how other nations will fare when they hold their elections with much focus on the current Egyptian polls. Key to note however is that credible polls, though not the only panacea, may somehow be a game changer to most less developed countries in terms of boosting economic growth.

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