AS Africa hopes for a more stable year, the 2016 political calendar got off to what promises to be a busy 12 months when Egypt’s new parliament convened, in its first session in three years, after a legislative election dominated by pro-government candidates in the absence of any opposition.
At least 17 African countries are set to go the polls this year.
However, many of the elections held at the end of 2015, and whose results are now being realised, were mostly votes to return to stability.
Incumbents looking to keep power
The rest of the votes in the first quarter of the year are set to be either consolidation or “continuity” polls, with incumbents looking to keep and continue their grip on power, and the risk coming from the fallout that arises from a long-ruling leader using highhandedness means to win.
In Egypt, analysts say the new 596-member parliament is expected to strengthen the hand of the country’s strongman President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and rubber-stamp his government’s decisions.
It was elected last year in two phases with a low turnout of just 28.3% after authorities launched a deadly crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood movement of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
Though seeking to consolidate, al-Sisi is battling determined ISIS-linked terrorists who have staged several deadly attacks in Cairo and the Sinai, including on a Russian airliner in the peninsula in November, killing all 224 people on board. The Egyptian economy has also taken a beating from a sharp drop in tourism and oil prices.
Further south, the electoral commission announced that the party of Madagascar’s president won an overwhelming victory in last month’s senatorial elections, held six years after the upper house of parliament was dissolved because of a coup.
According to preliminary results published on Saturday, President Hery Rajaonarimampianina’s HVM party won more than 60% of the vote in each of the country’s seven provinces.
Nearly 13,000 “grand electors”—the former French colony’s mayors and city councillors—cast ballots for 42 of the senators in the notoriously unstable island nation, while another 21 are to be appointed by the head of state.
Despite concerns raised by the opposition and observers, the electoral commission told the press Saturday it had accomplished its mission in holding a successful vote.
The upper chamber was dissolved after Antananarivo mayor Andry Rajoelina ousted President Marc Ravalomanana in the 2009 coup, which ushered in years of turmoil in the Indian Ocean archipelago.
Rajoelina headed up a “transitional” regime until finally a presidential election was held in 2013, won by Hery Rajaonarimampianina and deemed free and fair.
With the Senate in place, the president will be able to dissolve the lower house national assembly and call snap polls.
The president and his government, currently with no support in the lower house, have weathered two attempts by the MPs to unseat him last year for alleged constitutional violations and general incompetence.
CAR tries again
The conflict-riven Central African Republic (CAR), which held presidential elections at the end of 2015, will now have a second round vote on January 31 after none of the candidates garnered more than 50% of the vote required by the constitution in the first round.
Former premiers of CAR Anicet Georges Dologuele and Faustin Archange Touadera will face off in the race to become the country’s new democratically elected president, replacing interim president Catherine Samba-Panza
Dologuele won 23.7% in the first round of voting on December 30, trailed by Touadera who garnered 19.4%.
In West Africa, Niger’s constitutional court said 15 people are eligible to run in Feb. 21 presidential elections, including the jailed opposition leader Hama Amadou, according to Radio France Internationale.
A court in the capital, Niamey, will decide on Monday whether Amadou will be released on bail, the Paris-based broadcaster said.
Amadou, a former speaker of parliament, was arrested when he returned from self-imposed exile in France two months ago. His lawyers say judicial authorities want to question him in connection with a probe into a baby-trafficking network.
Two veterans dig in
In East Africa, Uganda is scheduled to vote in parliamentary and presidential elections February 18, with veteran leader President Yoweri Museveni seeking to extend his 30-year rule.
On Monday, Human Rights Watch said government intimidation of journalists and activists in Uganda is having a “chilling effect” on free speech ahead of the elections.
Seven opposition candidates are vying to end Museveni’s 30-year rule and violence could mar the campaign, with all sides are accusing each other of arming militias to press their claims to power.
To close the first quarter, the Republic of Congo (Brazaville), will hold the first round of presidential elections on March 20, 2016.
Elections were originally anticipated to be July 2016. The opposition said it would participate in elections under certain conditions, including the formation of a truly independent election commission.
Voters in October approved controversial constitutional changes that allow the country’s longtime ruler President Denis Sassou N’Guesso to seek another term. Sassou N’Guesso was president from 1979 until 1992, when he lost re-election.
Five years later he returned to power and has been at the helm ever since.
How the new governments start off and forthcoming elections are settled in the first quarter, could set the tone for the rest of the year. The main concerns are around Uganda’s election, with fears it could move from the continuity column to the disruptive one, if action isn’t taken to stem the violence that has plagued it so far.
-Additional reporting Bloomberg and AFP