Protests after postponed presidential elections in Senegal
On Monday, the Senegalese parliament postponed the presidential elections from 25 February to 15 December this year. President Macky Sall, whose constitutional last term of office expires on 2 April, is to continue to lead the government until the election. The vote was preceded by a speech by Macky Sall on Saturday, in which he announced the postponement of the election, citing alleged corruption in the Constitutional Council and the ongoing controversy surrounding the list of candidates published by the Council. During the parliamentary debate on Monday, there were riots in the plenary chamber, which culminated in an attempt by some opposition politicians to prevent the vote by occupying the main podium. After the participants were removed by security forces, 105 of the 165 MPs voted in favour of the law, thus achieving the necessary 3/5 majority. In the bill originally submitted, 25 August was initially specified as the new election date, but the date was changed to 15 December immediately before the vote. Parallel to the unrest inside the National Assembly, around 100 people gathered in front of the building to protest against the postponement of the election. The police used tear gas against those gathered and arrests were made. While parts of the opposition welcomed the postponement of the election – for example, the Parti Démocratique Sénégalais (PDS), which had already submitted a motion to postpone the election before Sall’s speech due to the exclusion of its presidential candidate Karim Wade and had also voted in favour of the law – other opposition parties sharply criticised the passing of the law and spoke of a constitutional coup. There were also critical voices from civil society, accusing Sall of unconstitutionally extending his term of office. Three opposition candidates have already filed a constitutional complaint against the law and two others have announced their intention to follow suit. The police responded to the protests in the capital by deploying a large contingent at intersections and public squares to dissolve public gatherings from the start. From Sunday evening until Tuesday, the government also switched off the mobile phone network, and the private television station Walf Television reportedly had its licence revoked after it had already been taken off air on Sunday. According to the spokesperson for the banned opposition party Patriotes africains du Sénégal pour le travail, l’éthique et la fraternité (PASTEF) (press review week 31/2023), three members of parliament from the opposition coalition Yewwi Askan Wi were also temporarily arrested during the course of Tuesday. Journalists also reported that they were forcibly prevented from reporting. Internationally, many countries and organisations expressed concern about the events. For example, Moussa Fakih Mahamat, Chairman of the African Union (AU) Commission, called on the Senegalese government to hold transparent elections as soon as possible. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) also called for a swift return to the regular electoral calendar in accordance with the constitution and held an emergency meeting in the Nigerian capital Abuja on Thursday. The US also criticised the postponement of the elections and called the vote in parliament illegitimate in view of the conditions under which it took place. Like Germany, the US referred to the democratic tradition of the Compact-with-Africa member state and called on the government to hold the presidential elections in accordance with the constitution and electoral laws. Meanwhile, the rating agency Moody’s warned that a prolonged delay in the election could hinder the country’s further economic consolidation, while Human Rights Watch criticised the government’s current measures as part of a long-standing crackdown on the opposition, media and civil society. Protests had already taken place in March (press review CW 11/2023), led at the time by the popular opposition politician Ousmane Sonko; in June 2023 (press review CW 23/2023), the country, which had previously been considered a beacon of democracy and an anchor of stability in West Africa, experienced the most violent protests in decades. The postponement of the election by almost 10 months has further fuelled the tense domestic political situation. After the situation in the country remained comparatively calm on Tuesday and Wednesday due to the large police presence, a coalition of around 40 civil, religious and professional groups called on Thursday for mass mobilisation and a large demonstration next Tuesday. A decision on the complaints filed is expected within a month.
Zimbabwe’s ruling party ZANU-PF wins two-thirds majority in parliament
Zimbabwe’s ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), secured a two-thirds majority in parliament in Saturday’s by-elections. According to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ZANU-PF successfully prevailed over the opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) in all six constituencies where by-elections were held. With these six additional seats, the ruling party, which fell short of a two-thirds majority in the controversial general elections in August last year (press review week 35/2023), now has a total of 190 out of 280 seats in parliament. Accordingly, ZANU-PF now has the necessary majority to amend the constitution without the opposition’s consent and, for example, to abolish the presidential term limit of two terms in office. Mnangagwa’s term of office runs until 2028, after which he would not be allowed to run again under the current constitution. With ZANU-PF’s two-thirds majority, parliament will become a toothless bulldog, CCC MP Daniel Molokele expressed his concern. There is also criticism from the other opposition parties and civil society. According to a ZEC spokesperson, voter turnout was rather low, but no exact figures were given. This is already the third by-election, after by-elections were held on 11 November in the Gutu West constituency, where the parliamentary elections were postponed due to the death of a candidate before the August elections, and on 9 December last year. In the latter, the positions of 9 CCC MPs were up for election after impostor Sengezo Tshabangu posed as the party’s interim Secretary-General and informed the Speaker of Parliament (ZANU-PF) of the purported resignation of a total of 15 MPs, including nine constituency MPs, five MPs who entered parliament through the women’s quota and one MP who entered parliament through the youth quota, as well as nine CCC senators, following which the Speaker of Parliament declared the parliamentary seats vacant. A similar incident had also triggered the by-elections at the weekend (press review week 46/2023). The CCC accused the ruling party of manipulation at the time, but an appeal against the dismissal of the MPs was rejected by the highest court. Last month, Nelson Chamisa announced that he was leaving the CCC, which he had founded two years ago and since then led as chairman. The 46-year-old, who was the CCC’s presidential candidate against Mnangagwa in August, explained that ZANU-PF had infiltrated his party. Since then, two other MPs have resigned their seats in solidarity, which will lead to further by-elections.
In other news
On Sunday, Namibian President Hage Geingob passed away at the age of 82 at the Lady Pohamba Hospital in the capital Windhoek after a short battle with cancer. Geingob, who had been in office since 2015, was regarded far beyond Africa as a recognised statesman who championed Namibia’s visibility on the international stage. Numerous African counterparts offered their condolences and expressed their respect for the deceased president. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier also honoured Geingob’s achievements and highlighted his efforts towards reconciliation with Germany and the reappraisal of German colonial crimes in Namibia. Geingob is regarded as one of the central figures of the Namibian struggle for independence and of the liberation movement of the time and today’s SWAPO (South-West Africa People’s Organisation) party. After independence, he was the country’s first prime minister and played a key role in drafting the constitution. The next parliamentary and presidential elections are scheduled to take place in November this year. Until then, the current Vice President Nangolo Mbumba will take over the reins of office. He has already announced that he has no intention of running in the election himself.