With elections ahead, some presidents try cooking results

Monday, October 12th, 2020 00:00 |
Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni. Photo: Courtesy

Washington, Sunday

The president of the West African nation of Guinea is running for a third term on October 18, even though Guinea requires its presidents to step down after two.

But because of a constitutional change he initiated, his first two terms do not count.

The president in neighbouring Ivory Coast has made his first two terms disappear with a constitutional amendment, too. So he is also running for a third-but-actually-first term, on October 31.

After 34 years in power, Uganda’s 76-year-old Yoweri Museveni  plans to run for re-election in February.

The age limit for presidents in Uganda was 75, but then he changed the constitution, and sought to prove his fitness to stay in office with a demonstration of his red-carpet workout routine in the State House — to the howls of many Ugandans.

While much of the world may be focused on the contest for the top job in the United States, presidential elections are also set to take place in at least 10 of Africa’s 54 countries over the next five months. All of the incumbents but one want to stay in office.

While most African presidents since 1990 have stepped down after their terms were up, many are now bending the rules to ensure they stay in power.

Some have manipulated supreme courts and electoral commissions; others have changed constitutions, prosecuted opposition candidates or prevented them from running by imposing onerous qualifying criteria.

But countries like the United States that once claimed to stand against those undermining democracy are now turning inward and so, some political thinkers say, incumbents are increasingly getting away with it.

“Too many of our countries have not stood by the protocols and the resolutions that we have made in our regional institutions.

Regarding democracy. Regarding term limits. Regarding the transfer of power in a regular and peaceful way,” said Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the former president of Liberia.

“And those shifts are coming also because of the changes in the geopolitical landscape.”

European colonizers frequently damaged or destroyed Africa’s own systems and traditions of holding power to account, as historians have chronicled.

Post-colonial African governments have instead relied on imported, sometimes ill-fitting political systems.

And at around 60 years old, these systems are still younger than many current presidents.

In March, Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara, 78, was basking in praise for saying he would step down when he had completed his two terms — despite arguing that he did not have to, because a constitutional change meant his term clock was reset to zero.

But four months later his chosen successor suddenly died, and the president judged that no other candidate would do.

Like his predecessors, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Ivory Coast’s first president, under whom Ouattara served as prime minister, and Laurent Gbagbo, whose refusal to leave office in 2011 triggered the country’s second bloody civil war within a decade, Ouattara decided to hang on.     - Agencies

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