Three long-serving Southern African leaders bade farewell to high office in 2004 and handed power to their chosen successors after largely free and fair elections, a development welcomed by analysts in the region.
Polls in Malawi, Namibia and Mozambique saw the ruling parties celebrating victories for the candidates in line to succeed veteran leaders Bakili Muluzi, Sam Nujoma and Joaquim Chissano. The wins were, with the exception of Malawi, substantial enough to cement "consensus one-party states", with parliamentary opposition weakened, and more prominent roles for civil society as a focus for dissent, analysts told IRIN.
The retirement of the three leaders, celebrated as a sign of political maturity, was not a foregone conclusion. Muluzi was the focus of much criticism when his party, the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF), attempted to change Malawi's constitution to allow him to run for office a third time. The constitutional amendment was narrowly defeated in parliament.
Muluzi's response was to hand-pick a relatively unknown Bingu wa Mutharika as the UDF's presidential candidate, while retaining his position as head of the ruling party.
Mutharika, an economist and technocrat, scooped roughly a third of the three million votes cast in the May general elections, which international observers described as free but not fair, largely due to the bias displayed by state media during the run-up to the poll.
"We actually said it was free because people were able to go to [voting] stations freely, and there were enough voter stations - but the environment was not fair; the playing field was not level," Sa Ngidi, manager for elections and political processes at the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA), told IRIN.
Malawian political analyst Boniface Dulani commented that the churches' role in the third-term controversy of 2004 was similar to the role they had played "in the fight for a multiparty democracy in the 1990s".
"The then ruling Malawi Congress Party (MCP) had to negotiate with the Public Affairs Committee, led by churches and civil society organisations, as there were no other political parties in the country," Dulani explained.
"Pressure from churches and civil society got the opposition to ... [stand up] to the ruling party on the third-term issue. The UDF was three votes shy of a two-thirds majority [needed to pass the amendment] ... if it were not for that pressure from civil society organisations, they could have managed it," Dulani noted. "Malawi is a young democracy. If Muluzi had stood in the 2004 election, he would have won."
POWER MAKES ODD BEDFELLOWS
Since being sworn-in, Mutharika's relationship with Muluzi has reportedly soured. An anti-corruption campaign he launched has seen the arrest of senior UDF members and made him unpopular among sections of the party loyal to Muluzi.
Dulani drew parallels with what had happened in Zambia, where former president Frederick Chiluba hand-picked Levy Mwanawasa as his successor, and also attempted to retain leadership of the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD). However, after reported rows with the newly elected president, Chiluba resigned as leader of the MMD in March 2002, and was later arrested on corruption charges, as were a number of former senior officials in his government.
"I think he [Muluzi] believed that if he could have someone installed as president, without [them having] a lot of power in ruling party structures, he would be able to control and rule from behind the scenes. But Mutharika has decided he wants to be his own person; he's trying to think ahead and ask, 'How am I going to be judged? As Muluzi's stooge, or someone who made a difference to Malawi's politics and future?'" Dulani commented.
"Access to state power means access to private wealth" and "Muluzi out of power could stand to lose a great deal", Dulani alleged. This could cause more friction between UDF supporters loyal to Muluzi and Mutharika's government, he warned.
THE 'OLD MEN' BOW OUT PARTIALLY
Namibia's Sam Nujoma, affectionately known as the 'Old Man', had led his country since independence in 1990, changing the constitution in 1999 to stay in office for a third term. In May 2004 the ruling South West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO) elected Hifikepunye Pohamba as its presidential candidate, putting paid to earlier speculation that 75-year-old Nujoma might run for office yet again.
SWAPO veteran Pohamba, 69, has been a loyal ally of Nujoma. One of his main rivals to succeed Nujoma, former foreign minister Hidipo Hamutenya, was sacked from the cabinet on the eve of the party's congress, effectively scuppering his bid to become president.
The presidential and legislative poll in November 2004 was conducted largely without incident, but "opposition parties contested [the result] on the basis of so-called irregularities, but they lost by a huge margin" said EISA's Ngidi.
Despite recent court challenges, Pohamba is expected to be inaugurated in March 2005; Namibian opposition parties failed to make the electoral gains they had anticipated.
"In terms of numbers, SWAPO has a two-thirds majority ... so politically, in parliament, there's no way to block them," said Ben Fuller, a senior researcher at the Namibia Policy Research Unit (NEPRU).
He told IRIN that "in terms of handing over power to Pohamba ... Nujoma is very much aware of his legacy. He wants to be remembered as a statesman, and I think he really believes in democratic processes ... he'd rather be remembered more like a Mandela than someone else. He has accomplished much of his goals in life - Namibia is free and is developing".
But Norman Tjombe, director of the NGO, Legal Assistance Centre, pointed out that "Nujoma is still the head of the ruling party" and retains a great deal of clout.
"He will probably use this position to influence the composition of the new cabinet. He has influenced, to a great extent, the lists for parliamentary candidates," ensuring that those out of favour stood very little chance of being elected.
He predicted that one of "two things can happen: either he [Pohamba] remains Nujoma's puppet ... or he does a Mwanawasa, where he was also seen to be the puppet and then turned around and prosecuted Chiluba".
The route being chosen by retiring presidents in Namibia and Malawi means "individuals are able to influence government from outside, perhaps in a very unhealthy way", Tjombe added.
ANTICIPATING MORE OR LESS CHANGE
In Mozambique Armando Guebuza was chosen as Chissano's successor by the ruling FRELIMO party in 2002, after some uncertainty as to whether or not Chissano would stand again, as he was constitutionally entitled to do.
Political analyst Joe Hanlon told IRIN that "Chissano tried to change his mind, and the party said, 'No, he ought to step down'". Chissano, who has ruled Mozambique since 1986, is set to retain leadership of FRELIMO.
Despite a lower than expected voter turnout, FRELIMO handsomely beat the opposition RENAMO party, which immediately alleged irregularities in the conduct of the poll.
"It's a done deal, whatever irregularities might have occurred - which the constitutional court is going to look at - are minor and unlikely to influence the results of the elections. It's very significant in that first-time transition, where the incumbent president hands over power to the next president - many Mozambicans are waiting to see how the process is going to be dealt with," said journalist Fernando Goncalves.
Internationally Chissano has stature; domestically there are differing views on his legacy. "One of the things he was able to do was end a [16-year civil] war that devastated the country; he was able to agree to economic policies that had the effect of turning round the Mozambican economy - that credit has to be given to him and his team," Goncalves commented.
"On the negative side, we've seen corruption picking up and intensifying; there's been a deterioration in the provision of essential services to the public - we've seen a situation of indifference by political leaders to the basic needs of the people."
Hanlon noted that Guebuza, formerly FRELIMO's secretary-general, "was campaigning almost against his predecessor, saying almost that he was [bringing] a government of change".
The election results confirmed Mozambique as "an elected one-party state" - like Botswana, South Africa and Namibia, where the ruling parties enjoy huge majorities in parliament.
"People are not voting for the opposition," said Hanlon. "It's something very similar to South Africa, where the liberation movement is seen as the natural party of government and the opposition is not."
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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