POLITICS:Opposition Parties in Africa and their rejection of Poll Outcomes

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By Mandla Tshuma

IN advanced democracies such as Europe and some parts of America, whenever election results are published, it is common for the loser to not only concede defeat but to also take a step further in congratulating the winner.

This is however, by and large, not the case in Africa where poll results are usually rejected, sometimes before the counting process is even completed, an indication, the continent still has a long way to go before full realisation of democracy.

It has been two decades and a half since Africa was freed from the yokes of colonialism, when most revolutionary parties took over from colonial masters and are still ruling parties while attempts by opposition parties to also govern remain a pipedream for many.

There are just a few cases across the continent where oppositional political parties have won elections such as Zambia, something that saw the revolutionary, United National Independence Party (UNIP) lose elections to the opposition following years of economic decay.

Another such example, in 2015 when incumbent president of Africa’s largest economy, President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria took the unprecedented step of conceding to Muhammadu Buhari before official results were announced.

That was the first defeat of an incumbent president by the opposition in that country’s history.

For many opposition parties in Africa, winning an election remains a mirage as in most cases results are predetermined before the process unfolds.

Claims of election rigging are more pronounced in Africa than in any part of the world, with opposition parties rejecting poll outcomes after every election.

Malawi opposition leader, Lazarus Chakwera, in May rejected the results of the presidential election in that Southern African country, calling them “daylight robbery.”

Incumbent President Peter Mutharika, according to the country’s election management body, won a second term with 38 percent of the vote to Chakwera’s 35 percent in the May 21 election.

Chakwera, who is seeking for a court nullification of the results, went to the extent of calling on Malawians to protest, alleging election irregularities.

He also sought a recount in 10 of the country’s 28 districts but the electoral commission said votes had been checked at several stages.

Mutharika has on the other hand rejected criticism of the election result, saying international observers had given the vote a clean bill of health.

The main Zimbabwean opposition, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), as has been the norm every election since 2000, last year rejected the outcome of the harmonised polls.

It took the Constitutional Court to uphold President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s victory.

In February this year Nigeria’s top opposition candidate, Atiku Abubakar, rejected the results of what he called a “sham election” adding he would take the matter to court.

Abubakar said he could have conceded to incumbent Buhari “within seconds” had the vote been free and fair, but he alleged “manifest and premeditated malpractices” in many of Nigeria’s 36 states.

“I have never seen our democracy so debased,” he argued.

Buhari amassed 55 percent of the total votes cast while Abubakar garnered 41 percent, according to figures released by the electoral commission.

In rejecting the poll outcome, Abubakar’s party claimed that election data had been manipulated and demanded fresh elections in four of Nigeria’s 36 states.

But Buhari’s party rejected the accusations, calling on Abubakar to accept his loss gracefully and concede.

“There’s no opposition that will roll over and play dead. Anybody that lost an election will always complain,” Hameed Ali, the ruling party agent said.

The outcome of Uganda’s 2016 polls was also not accepted by opposition countries in that East African country.

President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for more than 30 years now, was declared winner.

Museveni won with nearly 61 percent of the 2016 vote, down from 68 percent in 2011.

Kizza Besigye who has lost four times against Museveni trailed with 35 percent and has never polled higher than 38 percent.

Even before the results were announced, the opposition parties disputed the count, calling on Ugandans and the international community to reject and condemn the “fraud” that had been committed and to expose it to the fullest extent possible.

Opposition representatives later walked out of the official tally centre in protest, while others refused to send representatives to collect the official returns.

“There is nothing like vote rigging; we just have bad losers,” said Mike Sebalu, a top official in Museveni’s National Resistance Movement.

South Africa, a country which is praised for better management of polls on the continent, this time around had its credibility questioned by some of the opposition parties during the May polls.

Concerned smaller opposition parties demonstrated at the Results Operation Centre in the capital -Pretoria – disputing the credibility of the results and calling for a re-run.

North Africa is also not exempted from the disease, which continues to wreak havoc across the continent

Taking for example in 2010, demonstrations and riots swept across Egypt as voters protested against alleged fraud by the ruling party in parliamentary elections.

The opposition, local and international rights groups said the elections lacked transparency and were marred by widespread fraud and rigging.

In what to a certain extent vindicates the opposition claims that elections are never free and fair in Africa, Kenya’s Supreme Court in 2017 nullified the result of presidential election, in an unprecedented ruling that dealt a severe political blow to incumbent president Uhuru Kenyatta, declared winner by that country’s electoral commission.

“The declaration [of Kenyatta’s win] is invalid, null and void,” said Judge David Maraga, announcing the verdict of four out of the six judges.

The court ordered that fresh elections be held within 60 days pitting Kenyatta, and Raila Odinga, a veteran opposition leader, who challenged the result in the court, claiming widespread rigging.

The ruling, the first of its kind in Africa, could not be appealed.

The court said the electoral commission had “failed, neglected or refused to conduct the presidential election in a manner consistent with the dictates of the constitution”.

In its part, the electoral commission had declared Kenyatta, victor of the August 8, 2017 presidential election, saying he won 54 per cent of the vote to Odinga’s 45 per cent, a difference of 1.4 million votes.

However, Odinga, who was making his fourth bid for the presidency, alleged many result forms from polling stations were forged and that the electoral commission’s computer systems were tampered with.

He also claimed that his supporters in opposition strongholds were intimidated by senior government officials.

While the electoral management body in Kenya went on to reschedule the polls, the outcome did not change that much as Kenyatta was declared winner again after Odinga pulled out in the eleventh hour citing a number of reforms, including coming up with new commissioners for the electoral commission, something which was not to be.

Spokesperson, for one of Zimbabwe’s opposition political parties – Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) – Iphithule Thembani Maphosa,  said the reasons behind rejection of poll outcomes by opposition parties in Africa could be seen as two-fold.

“Firstly, we have opposition parties in Africa handled by forces outside Africa,” said Maphosa. “Even in Zimbabwe we have parties handled from outside by the British and Americans. These opposition parties do not pursue or support the agenda for Africa but have a western agenda. They have instructions to follow and

parameters to operate within and they cannot go outside those parameters. In most cases the opposition parties will be singing the song of their sponsors.”

Maphosa added that ruling parties across Africa are unwilling to create level political fields during polls resulting in the whole process being skewed in their favour, while the opposition loses faith in the entire electoral system.

“The ruling parties are in control of all the state apparatus; they also control all the institutions that run elections in Africa. We have seen them actually manipulating the vote even before it happens. They manipulate the voter’s roll, they manipulate every process and anything that has to do with elections and at the end of the day it becomes very difficult for the opposition to actually concede defeat, even when they have been defeated. The issues of trust have been eroded over the years. There is no trust between the opposition and ruling parties mainly because of the manner the ruling parties have been handling elections.”

He cited that in Zimbabwe, the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) controls almost every national institution including the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).

“Zanu PF have always dictated to ZEC how elections are supposed to be run. Those are the issues that affect the election outcome now and then we have disputed results.”

Political analyst, Thomas Sithole, also cited lack of conducive electoral environment as the reason behind disputed polls across the continent.

“Electoral processes are actually manipulated to favour or to advantage those who are in government, who are in the ruling party,” he said.

“The power of incumbency comes into play. It is on the basis of lack of an even playing field that the opposition has had to be on the defensive mode every time, in terms of the authenticity of the outcome and the ‘free and fairness’ aspect of elections. The credibility, therefore of our electoral processes are the ones that are put under test and many a times, the ruling parties have had unfair advantages over opposition political parties.”

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