Africa’s Super Sunday: Congo, Niger, Zanzibar marred by violence and repression, Benin elects new president, Cape Verde sweeps ruling party from power

By @zacrellin on
Benin election
Street vendors hold campaign posters for presidential candidate Patrice Talon ahead of the second round of Benin's presidential election on Sunday in Cotonou, Benin, March 18, 2016. Reuters/Charles Placide Tossou

Though Super Tuesday may already be a distant memory in the US presidential primaries, Africa has just witnessed its own election extravaganza with Super Sunday.

Reflecting the varied political environments across the continent, five elections were held on March 20: Niger, Zanzibar, Benin, Cape Verde and the Republic of the Congo. A referendum was also held in Senegal.

While voting in the Republic of the Congo and elsewhere was marred by violence and repression, Benin and Cape Verde changed leaders and governments peacefully, as they have done for decades.

Republic of the Congo: Tensions rise as government cracks down on opposition and imposes media blackout

Congo-Brazzaville election Supporters of Congo-Brazzaville opposition candidate Guy Parfait Kolelas attend a campaign rally ahead of Sunday's presidential election in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, March 17, 2016.  Reuters/Roch Bouka

The first round of presidential elections in the Republic of the Congo was plagued with government crackdowns on both the opposition and independent media.

Riot police used tear gas against crowds of opposition supporters who spoke out against alleged irregularities following the first round of voting.

In the lead-up to voting day, telephone, SMS and internet services were also cut off across the country for “reasons of national security,” according to Interior Minister Raymond Mboulou. Only a small handful of official phone numbers were excluded.

The government is particularly concerned about opposition supporters using social networks such as Facebook and WhatsApp to organise post-election demonstrations.

The local bureau of Radio France Internationale, which had increasingly critical coverage of incumbent President Denis Sassou Nguesso, was also muzzled when its broadcast was temporarily cut off.

On voting day, all drivers required a special permit from the government, effectively outlawing private motor vehicles.

Having severely curtailed opposition activity and civil society, President Sassou Nguesso is expected to sweep the elections.

President Sassou Nguesso, 72,  is running for a third term after introducing a new constitution which removes the previous two-term limit and the presidential age limit. He has held office from 1979-1992, and to the present day since 1997.

His main challenger is General Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko, who is running as an independent.

General Mokoko and other opposition candidates had called for the vote to be delayed due to an inadequate electoral register and the electoral commission not being truly independent. However the polls opened as scheduled.

Niger: Leading opposition leader imprisoned for infant trafficking, hospitalised during election

Niger election posters A man rides past electoral campaign posters for presidential candidate Seini Oumarou in Niamey, Niger, February 16, 2016. Niger holds presidential and legislative elections on Sunday.  Reuters/Joe Penney

Leading opposition candidate and former Prime Minister Hama Amadou was absent during the second round of the Nigerien presidential elections due to ill health.

Prior to seeking medical attention in Paris, Amadou had been arrested on charges of infant trafficking, an accusation he denies.

His wife was also arrested, with the two having allegedly been involved with so-called ‘baby factories,’ where women are forced to bear children who are then sold.

Amadou had formerly supported incumbent President Muhamadou after placing third in the 2011 elections. It was after he withdrew his support that he and his wife were arrested.

Meanwhile, President Muhamadou Issoufou is leading in the results with over 90 percent of the vote in the Nigerien presidential elections, having also secured a decisive lead in the first round.

His campaign focused on a pledge to defend the country from multiple jihadist groups to the north, and from Boko Haram in the south.

However, the COPA 2016 opposition coalition called for a boycott of the elections, citing fraud.

"The people of Niger have massively rejected this sham of an election," they announced in a statement.

The lead-up to the election was also plagued with reports of violence between supporters of the government and the opposition.

Niger’s previous presidential elections, held in the wake of a coup that overthrew authoritarian leader Mamadou Tandja, were considered by Freedom House to be free and fair.

Niger is amongst the poorest nations in the world, with one third of the population living below $2 a day.

Zanzibar: Ruling president wins as previous results in favour of the opposition are annulled

Ali Mohames Shein Zanzibar's President Ali Mohamed Shein of the ruling CCM party casts his ballot at Bungi primary school in Zanzibar, Tanzania March 20, 2016, during re-election after the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC) nullification of the October 25 General Elections due to fraud.  Reuters/Emmanuel Herman

President Ali Mohamed Shein of the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), Tanzania’s ruling party, won the presidential elections of the semi-autonomous region of Zanzibar with 91.4 percent of the vote after the main opposition party, the Civic United Front (CUF), called for a boycott.

The election comes after last year’s presidential election in October was annulled following CUF candidate Seif Sharif Hamad declaring himself the victor before results had been officially announced, according to the government.

While President Shein said he was “happy to vote again,” opposition supporters dismissed the elections as “a waste of time”.

Opposition leader Hamad claims the 2015 results were annulled because he won.

The CCM has dominated Tanzanian politics since 1977 when the country was a single-party state. It is the longest-reigning political party in Africa.

The CUF, meanwhile, had warned of violence if it did not win.

Benin: Cotton magnate wins country’s 13th democratic election since 1991

Benin election 2 An electoral officer empties a box of ballot slips after polling stations closed for the first round of the presidential election in Cotonou, Benin March 6, 2016.  Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye

Independent politician and cotton magnate Patrice Talon edged out Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou of the Cowry Forces for an Emerging Benin (FCBE) party after the second round of voting.

Talon, who won with 65.39 percent of the vote, had actually placed a close second in the first round of voting, but it seems his campaign, which revolved around his personal success and fortunes from the cotton industry despite his humble beginnings, resonated with more voters.

Prime Minister Zinsou, who is also an investment banker, conceded defeat before the final results had been called, commenting that his rival had achieved a “decisive victory”.

Zinsou’s platform focused on financing agricultural development and helping informal workers gain full-time employment, however he was widely criticised as a “coloniser” due to being born and raised in Paris.

The elections came as incumbent President Thomas Boni Yayi, also of the FCBE, reached the end of his second term, with the constitution preventing him from serving longer.

President-elect Talon was a close confidant of Boni Yayi before accusations of masterminding a plot to poison him caused him to flee to France. He returned last year thanks to a presidential pardon.

Benin is considered by Freedom House to be one of the “most stable democracies in West Africa,” with multiparty parliamentary elections having been held since the end of the one-party system in 1991.

Cape Verde: Government swept from power after 15 years

Cape verde election billboards People walk by campaign posters during legislative elections in Praia, Cape Verde, March 20, 2016.  Reuters/Julio Rodrigues

The opposition Movement for Democracy (MpD) party won Cape Verde’s parliamentary elections, regaining power for the first time in 15 years.

The MpD won 53.7 percent of the votes, giving it a majority over former governing party, the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV), which polled just 37 percent.

The parliamentary elections are also considered to be a measure of public opinion in the lead up to the presidential elections in August.

Correia e Silva, leader of the centrist MpD, described the results as “a clear desire for change”.

Leader of the centre-left PAICV, Hopffer Almada, would have been the country’s first female prime minister, however high-youth unemployment turned voters away from the party.

Some analysts also considered her to be too arrogant in the eyes of the voters.

Both the MpD and the PAICV have dominated Cape Verdean politics since the archipelago’s independence from Portugal in 1975.

Freedom House notes Cape Verde for it its “political and economic stability,” and considers it as “one of the least corrupt countries in Africa.”

Senegal: Constitutional change brings positive changes, but creates grey area for president

Macky Sall Senegal's President Macky Sall is welcomed by Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouattara at the presidential residence in Cocody, Abidjan, Ivory Coast, March 19, 2016.  Reuters/Thierry Gouegnon

Bucking the trend across the continent of leaders changing the constitution to remove term limits, Senegal’s new constitution introduces a two-term limit and cuts terms from seven to five years.

The referendum passed by a wide margin, allowing the country to adopt the new constitution.

Nevertheless, President Macky Sall has been criticised over the constitutional changes, which only affect future presidential terms and leaves his current term unaffected.

The new constitution, which includes affording official privileges to the opposition leader, more power for local councils, and ensuring the citizens’ “right to a healthy environment,” is considered by many to a popularity test for the incumbent.

Several civil society organisations, including youth activist group Y-en-a-marre, had campaigned for citizens to vote no in the referendum due to the grey area created regarding the end of President Sall’s term, which was seen as a threat to political stability and hard-won democratic gains of the country.

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