Tag Archives: elections

‘As soft as wool’? Reform and Repression in Zimbabwe

When he came to power in November 2017, Emmerson Mnangagwa rode a wave of local and global goodwill. But by March 2019, the USA had renewed sanctions against Zimbabwe that have been in place for nearly 20 years. In February, the UK held parliamentary discussions on Zimbabwe and the Africa Minister, Harriet Baldwin, made it clear that a full normalisation of relations with Zimbabwe was no longer on the table.

So how exactly did we get here?

Mnangagwa the ‘Reformer’

“I’m as soft as wool,” President Emmerson Mnangagwa stated in an interview with Sky News in August 2018, in response to a question from a journalist regarding his fearsome nickname – the ‘crocodile.’ Mnangagwa had worked hard in the 18 months since the ‘coup’ that had put him in state house, cleaning up his image and promising to be a president for all Zimbabweans, vowing to set the country on a new path. President Mnangagwa came to power promising extensive reforms, global re-engagement and repeating the mantra that Zimbabwe was “open for business.”

Ahead of the elections on 30 July 2018, on the main thoroughfares through the capital and scattered across the country, big billboards towered over Zimbabwe’s citizens as they went about their business. These billboards were filled with images of an engaging and smiling President Mnangagwa, making sweeping promises about universal healthcare, decent jobs, power generation and ‘free, fair and credible elections.’ The administration invited credible election observation missions from around the world – missions that had not been allowed to monitor the country’s elections since the violent 2002 polls. Between them, the observer groups spanned 46 countries and 15 regional blocks, making the 2018 election the most observed election in the country since independence in 1980.

Mnangagwa had traversed the globe promising change and a “new dispensation” in Harare, and was well-received in global capitals, with the UK’s Rory Stewart – at the time the Minister of State for Africa – the first to arrive in Harare following Mnangagwa’s installation in 2017. Zimbabwe applied to re-join the Commonwealth, with the UK supporting its application. The administration sought to re-engage with international financial institutions – the World Bank and IMF – from which it had been alienated since the early 2000s. The EU and USA began to discuss the relaxation of the remaining limited sanctions and it seemed that Zimbabwe under Mnangagwa might finally be welcomed back in to the international community, shedding its ‘pariah state’ status.

The July 2018 election

Despite all of the positive changes ahead of the polls, it was clear that there were rumblings of dissent from within the ruling party – and there were early indications that despite initial assurances about free and fair elections, some aspects of the playing field would remain skewed in the ruling party’s favour. The state media refused to give equal coverage to all 23 presidential candidates, particularly ignoring the ruling party’s key opponent – Nelson Chamisa of the MDC-Alliance. Despite their initial openness, the electoral commission soon began to stonewall key discussions on reforming the electoral process, making the electoral roll available for an audit and allowing the opposition to oversee the printing of ballots. Instead, an unconstitutional ballot was designed and printed, civic groups and opposition parties were left with little time to review and validate the roll and there were serious and widespread reports of intimidation in rural areas in the lead-up to the polls.

When 7 protestors were gunned down by soldiers in the streets of Harare in front of the global media on 1 August, the international community and political commentators were dumbfounded. The administration was so close to legitimating the 2017 coup with a flawed-but-meets-basic-standards election, that it seemed unthinkable that they would have squandered local and global goodwill so easily. At his inauguration, Mnangagwa condemned the violence, vowing that his new administration would usher in a “brighter tomorrow” – and he announced the creation of a commission of enquiry into the deaths on 1 August. He described himself as a “listening president”, and insisted that his government was committed to ‘constitutionalism, the rule of law and judicial independence.’ Again, the commentators were caught off-guard, and were inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, to believe that perhaps the military had acted without sanction – or worse, that the Vice President, Constantino Chiwenga, had an eye on his boss’ job and had loosed the military on civilians to undermine Mnangagwa’s position.

To sanitise his image in the wake of the global outcry, several opinion articles appeared in the global media, ostensibly penned by Mnangagwa. He spoke of reconciliation, new beginnings and a better future for a long suffering populace. But when the commission of enquiry – headed by former South African President Kgalema Motlanthe – wrapped up its business, they had heard from soldiers that those killed had not been shot by soldiers but instead had been stabbed by members of the opposition; that the MDC-A was to blame for the violence and deaths; and that Mnangagwa had given the orders to set up the rapid response unit that had been mobilised to the streets in response to the protests. Despite all his assurances of being accountable, Mnangagwa is yet to publicly release the full report which was handed to him in December 2018.

A disastrous January

By January 2019, less than 6 months into the administration, a simmering economic crisis had prompted disgruntled and increasingly desperate members of the civil service to make more demands from the state. Inflation in the black market for the country’s surrogate currency was at over 50% in January, and long lines at fuel stations made basic tasks difficult.

Mnangagwa announced an enormous fuel price hike on 12 January, before jetting off in a private aircraft to Central Asia. The country’s labour unions called for a national stay away to protest the declining economy and unaffordable fuel prices, which was then enforced by unknown elements and angry youths. In the melee that ensued, shops were looted, cars were burned and a policeman was stoned to death. In the wake of this, the state launched a violent and angry three-week crackdown on the country’s poor, beating those who lived in close proximity to the worst of the looting and violence – and committing systematic torture and collective punishment. Nearly a thousand people were rounded up, beaten and put in prison. Fourteen women are reported to have been raped by soldiers, and at least 17 people were reported to have been killed.

In person, Mnangagwa seemed to condone the violence, though his Twitter feed condemned it and called for accountability for the state-sponsored violence. In a strange twist, his spokesman went so far as to tell the public not to believe everything said on the president’s Twitter feed. This fresh crackdown prompted yet another round of global concern, and it appears that all prospects for international re-engagement have stalled. ZIDERA has been renewed, and the UK has disowned any plans to support Zimbabwe’s bid to re-enter the Commonwealth. US sanctions will make the bailout that Zimbabwe so badly needs from international financial institutions even more unlikely.

Mnangagwa’s consistent inconsistency

While early in his presidency, many were willing to give the new president the benefit of the doubt, it is increasingly clear that the new administration in Zimbabwe is both more authoritarian than its predecessor, and less strategic. Having denounced the January 2019 protests as a Western-backed attempt at regime change, the ruling party has dusted off its old anti-imperial mantra as a cloak for their repressive actions. They have charged key opposition and civic leaders with treason. In 25-year old Joanah Mamombe’s case, she is alleged to be the first woman charged with treason in the country in over 150 years. According to veteran journalist, Peta Thornycroft, “about 10 MPs from the opposition MDC Alliance are variously charged with incitement, subversion and treason.”

In light of all this, in early March, the United Nations Human Rights Council announced that it would send special rapporteurs to Harare to investigate the claims of human rights abuses. In another spectacular about-face, this has apparently been welcomed by President Mnangagwa. The Foreign Ministry’s official who was sent to brief the press appeared to be living in a parallel universe, and reported substantial gains at international re-engagement. In a similar vein, it was reported on 6 March that the government – who are currently unable to stabilise the economy, pay civil servant salaries or settle vast debts to neighbouring South Africa – have decided to engage the services of a Trump-affiliated lobbyist to have the US sanctions dropped. This comes at an annual cost of $500 000 dollars. The likely success of this initiative is low, and Zimbabweans will probably see little gain from their misspent taxes.

Unfortunately, this young administration has proven to be both erratic and tone deaf. Having had several chances at reform, they have consistently undermined their own case but still hoped to find themselves in a strong negotiating position. For now, the reform ship appears to have sailed, and the long-suffering citizens of Zimbabwe are likely to continue to suffer under a regime that seems to care little for their welfare, and less for their protest. As Panashe Chigumadzi stated in August 2018, “the old Zimbabwe is the new Zimbabwe.”

Preparing for regional elections in Russia

Vladimir Putin’s approval rating has taken a hit within the last year. From an 82 percent rating in April 2018, the figure now stands at 64 percent.[1] Not disastrous, you might say – but it’s all relative.

The proximate cause of this fall is no secret: a set of unpopular changes to Russia’s pension system. Specifically, the ages at which men and women start receiving their pension will be raised – from 60 to 65, and 55 to 60, respectively.

Putin initially tried to keep a safe distance from this deeply unpopular change. He finally intervened publicly to amend the legislative initiative during its second reading on 26 September 2018 in the State Duma – the lower chamber of the Federal Assembly (the national-level parliament) – revising down the retirement age for women from 63 to 60. This ‘softening’ did little, however, to dampen public anger, as seen in protest activity and sentiment.

This unpopular policy change also contributed to electoral upsets for the Kremlin in the 9 September 2018 regional elections. (For an early review of the results, see my post for this blog.) Of most concern to Russia’s political leadership were the victories for opposition-party candidates in three gubernatorial races. (See my discussion of this in another post for this blog.)

The Kremlin doesn’t like losing elections. But that’s no surprise: displeasure with losing is neither distinctive to modern-day Russia nor other polities, regardless of their democratic credentials. What is worthy of note, however, is the set of measures being implemented now to make sure – or, at least, increase the likelihood – that the Kremlin gets its way in the next set of regional elections that will take place on 8 September this year. (According to Russia’s Central Electoral Commission, this will involve more than 5,000 electoral campaigns in 82 federal subjects (regions), including 16 gubernatorial elections.)

The Kremlin is currently taking at least five steps to help make sure it gets its desired results in this next round of elections.

1. Allowing independent gubernatorial candidates

In many Russian regions, gubernatorial candidates are required to be ‘party candidates’ – that is, politicians cannot run as independents (unlike, it must be said, presidential candidates). The worry for Kremlin-backed figures, however, is that the party of choice – the ‘party of power’, United Russia – is currently toxic by association. In April 2018, approval for the party hovered at 50 percent; the figure now is around 32 percent.[2] As with Putin’s approval rating, the reason for the fall is found in the pension reform. Now that the party brand is more a liability than a benefit, legislation in a number of regions is being changed to allow gubernatorial candidates to run as independents. Thus, for example, Aleksandr Beglov – Acting Governor of St Petersburg – introduced a bill to that effect on 20 November 2018; the initiative was approved by deputies of the St Petersburg Legislative Assembly on 19 December.

2. Changing the electoral rules for regional assemblies

Many regions in Russia fill seats in their regional legislative assemblies using a mixed electoral system. Like elections to the national-level State Duma, half the seats are filled through ‘first-past-the-post’ races, with the other half filled through party-list proportional representation.[3] So, voters make two votes: one for a particular candidate and one for a particular party. A number of regions have approved, or are considering, changing the proportion of seats filled through ‘first-past-the-post’ races to 75 percent. The reason for the change is clear: campaigns focused on individuals rather than the party will help shift the focus away from the unpopular ‘party of power’. In addition, ‘administrative resources’ – the advantages held by being Kremlin-backed, such as favourable state media coverage – are more easily deployed in candidate-centred, rather than party-centred, races. Unsurprisingly, opposition party leaders are not keen on a change that will likely benefit United Russia.

3. Removing governors before the elections

The easiest way to win an election is to field a genuinely popular candidate. The Kremlin has, as a result, been polling citizens in the regions to gauge the popularity of incumbent governors. If there are doubts about these incumbents’ chances of winning, then they are replaced with an individual with better prospects. Thus, for example, Grigorii Poltavchenko – Governor of St Petersburg since 2011 – was replaced by Aleksandr Beglov in October 2018. This is a prime example of ‘sovereign democracy’: popular opinion still plays a role, but the Kremlin uses this information to try to avoid embarrassing electoral defeats, thus depriving Russians of the opportunity to ‘throw the rascals out’ at the ballot box themselves. (See this interview of Alexander Kynev by Maria Lipman for an excellent discussion of the recent reshuffling of governors.)

4. Carrying out an information campaign against opposition politicians

Getting elected is only one hurdle faced by opposition politicians. Once in office, they not only need to deal with local elites, but they also need to develop a working relationship with Moscow. Even if they do establish a pragmatic arrangement with the Presidential Administration, this doesn’t guarantee a quiet life. Take, for example, Sergei Levchenko – the Communist Party (KPRF) governor of Irkutsk Oblast’, elected in 2015. In September 2018, footage was uploaded on YouTube of the governor shooting a hibernating bear at point-blank range. The footage might be shocking, but the timing of its release is telling: although the hunt apparently took place in 2016, its upload to YouTube coincided with legislative elections to the Irkutsk regional assembly. Moreover, a criminal case was initiated on 29 December regarding ‘illegal hunting’ – something that might continue to dog Levchenko, in addition to more recent accusations of embezzling budget funds. The Irkutsk governor is up for re-election in 2020, so the point is not that the Kremlin is trying to frustrate an election campaign running up to 8 September. Rather, this case of ‘black PR’ appears part of a broader attempt to smear opposition politicians in general.

5. Blocking attempts to soften registration requirements for election candidates

A Presidential Administration working group – headed by First Deputy Chief of Staff, Sergei Kirienko – has been tasked with exploring ways to amend electoral legislation, including softening the ‘municipal filter’.[4] Given the Kremlin’s desire not to see a re-run of opposition wins, however, these liberalisations are unlikely to be implemented, especially before the 8 September elections. Another sign that reform is unlikely comes in the planned rejection of a legislative initiative (introduced into the State Duma by senator Vladimir Lukin) to make passing the ‘municipal filter’ easier. Opponents of the change have branded it ‘populism’.

*

These five steps are some of the ways in which the electoral playing field is being tilted in the ruling elite’s favour, not to mention methods of outright electoral fraud. If the rules don’t suit, then just change the rules. This basic message is not new, but it’s worth emphasising that the long-term effects of this legal instability are unlikely to help the development of a rule-of-law state in Russia.


[1] Data from the Levada Centre – an independent polling organisation.

[2] Data from VTsIOM – a Kremlin-friendly polling organization.

[3] The 2007 and 2011 State Duma elections did not use a mixed system, involving only party-list ballots.  

[4] The ‘municipal filter’ requires politicians to collect a certain number of signatures from municipal deputies in order to register their electoral candidacies. Such ‘municipal filters’ did not prevent the candidacies of the opposition-party politicians who ended up winning gubernatorial elections in 2018, as the Kremlin – in another manifestation of ‘sovereign democracy’ – approved their participation as ‘technical’ candidates. Frustratingly for the Kremlin, however, they ended up proving more popular than anticipated, if only, or largely, through votes cast as protests, rather than cast as positive endorsements of opposition electoral platforms.

Gubernatorial elections in Russia

In a post for this blog on 12 September, I provided an early review of the 9 September regional elections in Russia. This was a real mix of races, including ballots for regional legislatures, by-elections for the State Duma, and contests for regional heads. The last set of elections – for regional executives – has proved the most interesting, as no candidate secured more than 50 percent of votes in four of the first-round gubernatorial races, forcing run-off votes. What has happened since – and what can this tell us about politics in general at the start of Putin’s fourth presidential term?

 

Opposition-party victories

Of the four interesting gubernatorial races, opposition-party governors have already been elected in two regions. The second-round gubernatorial vote took place in Vladimir Oblast’ – a region to the east of Moscow – on 23 September. The sitting, Kremlin-backed governor, Svetlana Orlova (United Russia), lost to Vladimir Sipyagin – a member of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) – who secured 57 percent of the vote. Similarly, an LDPR candidate, Sergei Furgal, beat the United Russia incumbent, Vyacheslav Shport, in the second-round vote in Khabarovsk Krai – a region in Russia’s far east – on 23 September, with 70 percent of the vote. Commentators have wondered whether this might be a moment when merely nominal opposition actors become real critics of the Kremlin, emboldened by electoral successes.

We should bear three things in mind when making sense of these opposition wins. Firstly, these losses for the Kremlin come in the context of the decision to implement a deeply unpopular pension reform – a policy change that has resulted in a sharp drop in support for United Russia. Rather than a positive vote for LDPR or KPRF (the Communist Party of the Russian Federation), therefore, many Russians were using their votes in the 9 September elections (and subsequent ballots) to protest against this particular policy. Secondly, even though members of nominally opposition parties have become regional heads, that certainly does not mean that they will be combative with Moscow and Kremlin-backed actors. It has been reported, for instance, that Sergei Furgal has suspended his membership of LDPR in order to appease, and work with, members of the regional elite. Thirdly, and relatedly, these are not the first opposition governors in Russia. In Irkutsk Oblast’, for example, a KPRF politician – Sergei Levchenko – has been regional head since 2015. And LDPR’s Aleksei Ostrovskii has been the head of Smolensk Oblast’ since 2012. We should not, therefore, lose perspective on these opposition wins, regardless of whether they were a surprise for the Kremlin.

 

Unfinished contests

Two other regions have unfinished gubernatorial races. In Khakassia – a region relatively near Russia’s borders with Kazakhstan, China, and Mongolia – the second-round vote was scheduled to take place on 23 September. However, the incumbent governor – Viktor Zimin (United Russia) – withdrew his candidacy on 21 September, meaning that the ballot had to be postponed. In the run-up to the new voting date of 7 October, the “Just Russia” party candidate, Andrei Filyagin, also withdrew his candidacy, resulting in another postponement. The “Party of Growth” candidate, Aleksandr Myakhar, also withdrew on 15 October. The second-round vote is now scheduled for 11 November, with only one candidate, KPRF’s Valentin Konovalov, who secured 45 percent of votes in the first round on 9 September. One obvious explanation for the multiple postponements is that the authorities want to do all they can to frustrate another opposition-party victory – an explanation that fits with attempts to disqualify Konovalov from the race. Konovalov has a chance to win, but there have been further recent attempts to block his pathway to power.

The final gubernatorial vote is scheduled to take place in Primorsky Krai – a region in the far east – on 16 December. In the first-round vote on 9 September, the Kremlin-backed incumbent, Andrew Tarasenko, won 47 percent of the vote, with the KPRF candidate, Andrei Ishchenko, achieving 25 percent. In the second-round vote on 16 September, Ishchenko looked certain to win. However, a dramatic surge for Tarasenko during counting of the final votes resulted both in his provisional victory and accusations of vote rigging. Indeed, these electoral fraud allegations resulted in the official invalidation of the voting results – something that deprived Tarasenko victory, but that has been challenged by Ishchenko in the courts, as he sees himself as the rightful winner. In light of this voting scandal, Tarasenko resigned and was replaced by Oleg Kozhemyako – until then head of Sakhalin Oblast’ – who will run as an independent in the 16 December ballot (although United Russia has declared its support for his candidacy).

The picture in Primorsky Krai has become even more complicated. On Saturday 3 November, the Primorsky regional KPRF branch voted not to field Andrei Ishchenko as its candidate in the December election. There are a number of reasons why this decision might have been taken. One possible consideration relates to reports of Kozhemyako’s rising popularity – something (if true) that will have been supported by the activities of Kremlin-funded political technologists dispatched to the region. Ishchenko’s withdrawal is, therefore, a pre-emptive move in anticipation of expected electoral defeat. Another possible reason relates to doubts about whether Ishchenko could clear the ‘municipal filter’ – a mechanism whereby electoral candidacy is only possible with the support of a specified number of municipal deputies. In practice, this provides a way for the authorities to block particular politicians from participating in elections. Indeed, there were reports that some municipal deputies in Primorsky Krai had complained of pressure not to vote for Ishchenko’s candidacy. The withdrawal decision might also signal the KPRF’s reluctance to incur the costs of opposing the Kremlin too publicly and meaningfully. As a member of the so-called ‘systemic’ opposition, the KPRF elite has to find the right balance between Kremlin loyalty and maintaining the semblance of an opposition political stance. It could be that the campaign leading up to the 16 December vote – never mind the prospect of an Ishchenko victory – upset that balance too much for comfort.

 

Not the end for Putin

Vladimir Putin’s fourth presidential term began six months ago, and should run until 2024. Do these regional election results constitute flashes of democracy in Russian politics – or signs that the Putin regime is in crisis?

No. But the electoral setbacks were not welcome for Putin’s team. A number of United Russia officials were fired following the regional race setbacks. This has been followed by moves to strengthen the party’s capacity in Russia’s regions. The reason is obvious: the Kremlin is keen not to see a repeat of the regional election surprises in 2019. It has been reported that the Kremlin has already begun evaluating the electoral appeal of governors up for re-election next year. Those who do not make the cut will be replaced with acting governors that the Kremlin thinks have better prospects of winning. This means that the Kremlin will reduce the likelihood of embarrassing electoral defeats, as well as giving incumbency advantage to more popular candidates. There is also a debate about whether to amend electoral legislation – a popular battleground for elements of the elite with differing views on how managed Russia’s ‘sovereign democracy’ should be.

Overall, then, the Kremlin was taken by surprise by opposition-party wins, but it is not in panic. Putin’s approval rating certainly took a significant hit as a result of the unpopular pension reform, but the numbers have stopped falling. Now, the task for ‘Team Putin’ is to adjust to the new normal – and to do what it can to prevent further opposition electoral gains. As the early anger resulting from pension reform has subsided, the protest-vote potential relating to this particular policy has certainly declined. But the regional election results will strengthen the position of those arguing for tighter, not looser, control of electoral campaigns – in the short-run, at least. In the longer term, this management might come into closer conflict with the rising importance placed by Russian citizens on democracy and human rights.

Mozambique – Facing critical challenges: local elections, peace talks, and emerging security issues

After much speculation, Mozambique held local elections on October 10th, which were the fifth since 1994. These elections were important on several grounds. First, they took place under new legislation for electing local authorities. Second, it was the first time in 10 years that  Renamo was going to compete in local elections, after boycotting the 2013 polls. Third, these elections presented a critical test to the country’s prospects for democratization and peacebuilding. They took place about one month after the signature of a memorandum of understanding on military issues between the incumbent President Filipe Nyusi and the acting leader of Renamo, Ossufo Momade. Therefore, there was some level of uncertainty on whether the formal consensus would endure as the campaign unfolded and after the results were announced. Overall, looking at the political leadership during this period can foreshadow what is to come a year from now, when the general election is expected to take place.

The peace talks   

On August 6th, President Filipe Nyusi addressed the nation to announce that the Mozambican government and Renamo had signed a memorandum of understanding on military issues. The long awaited memorandum represents an important milestone after several months of negotiations and the initial uncertainty on whether the death of Renamo’s leader (Afonso Dhlakama) would compromise the peace negotiations and whether acting leader Ossufo Momade would fulfil the compromises reached hitherto. The memorandum establishes the process of “integrating the officers from Renamo in the FADM and in the Republic of Mozambique Police (PRM)” and “the Renamo armed elements’ DDR process”, as well as clear mechanisms that allow the process to be monitored. More specifically, it creates a Joint Technical Group on DDR (JTGDDR) to ensure that “DDR activities are performed in a timely, effective and efficient manner”.

The signing of the memorandum highlights the relevance of political leadership. President Filipe Nyusi’s willingness to concede on Renamo’s longtime demands, namely the decentralization package and the incorporation of the latter’s men into the country’s armed forces, was crucial for this outcome. Moreover, throughout the negotiation process, he presented himself as committed to attaining consensus and peace.  His words at the announcement of the signature of the memorandum are a clear illustration of this: “we did this by believing that, with patience, tolerance, understanding, a spirit of reconciliation, and a singular dedication to results, Mozambicans can construct peace”. Ossufo Momade, on the other hand, strived to gain legitimacy as a peace negotiator and Renamo’s new “strong man”. Following a decision made by Renamo’s National Political Committee, he went on living in the Gorongosa (as Afonso Dhlakama did in the past), and he was expected to continue the peace negotiations from there. Still, he also alluded to the “good will between the parties” and to Renamo’s commitment to the disarmament process.  However, the holding of local elections, which were the first ones in which Renamo participated in 10 years, relaunched new uncertainties on whether the party would still fulfil the memorandum.

Local Elections

After the approval of new electoral legislation on July 19th, the competing political forces had only a few months to set up their lists of candidates for the October 10th local elections. Parties’ nominations for the country’s 53 municipalities were not consensual across all units. This was the case in the capital, Maputo. Here, Frelimo faced an important setback when Samora Machel Júnior, son of the first Mozambican president, Samora Machel, defected the party to run as an independent mayoral candidate against the party’s endorsed candidate, Eneas Comiche. Renamo, on the other hand, saw its first choice, Venâncio Mondlane, excluded by the National Elections Commission (CNE) and had to replace him with Hermínio Morais. The electoral campaign period had a few episodes of clashes between the opposing parties, and Renamo’s supporters claimed they were victims of intimidation and assault. Voting day was generally calm, although there were some procedural incidents. Overall, the results brought no significant changes: Frelimo elected mayors (the head of the list of the party with the most votes) in 44 municipalities, while Renamo elected 8 and  MDM 1. The results were not accepted by Ossufo Momade, who promised to contest the results. Following a strategy that was often used by the former leader of Renamo Afonso Dhlakama, he stated “We do not want war but we also do not accept any attempt to change the popular will”; moreover he threatened to walk out of talks if the electoral bodies failed to recognize that the local elections had been fraudulent.  So far the appeals submitted by the Renamo (and the MDM) against the election results have been rejected by the courts.

Leadership in times of uncertainty

President Filipe Nyusi has been facing critical tests since he was elected to office in 2014; however, the unfolding of the peace talks with Renamo and his party’s win in the local elections, reinforce his legitimacy and strength as leader. On Renamo’s side, the new leadership has a chance to refashion and strengthen the party if it is to continue to improve electorally. However, there are important challenges ahead. The implementation of the DDR process as delineated in the memorandum remains haunted by uncertainty, and Renamo’s leadership has already threatened to abandon the negotiations, as the party considers the recent local elections illegitimate. Furthermore, the economy is still volatile, and there are new emerging security threats in the country’s northern provinces that have been linked to Islamic terrorismillegal mining activity, and social inequality, which need to be addressed by the presidency. How both parties’ leaderships deal with the challenges they face and keep the peace process on track will be the keys to their success in the upcoming 2019 election.

Ukrainian Parliament Appoints a New Central Election Commission

Last week, after a 4-year delay, Ukrainian Parliament appointed 14 new members of the Central Election Commission (CEC). The process of replacing CEC commissioners whose terms expired has started more than 2 years ago. After years of failed attempts, the appointment of new commissioners has been determined to be one of the main tasks on the agenda of the 9th session of the Ukrainian parliament.

According to the Law on the Central Electoral Commission, Parliament appoints and dismisses 15 members of the CEC on the proposal of the president. Their term in office is 7 years. The size of the commission was increased to 17 on September 18, 2018. The president is supposed to take the proposals of political parties into account during the nomination process. The terms of 12 of the 15 commissioners expired in 2014, and another member reached the end of his 7th year in office in 2017. With quickly approaching presidential and parliamentary elections in the country, the policy-makers have agreed that the issue could no longer be postponed and had to be addressed as soon as possible.

Many have argued that the old CEC have long lost its credibility. Its members have been nominated by the Party of Regions led by President Viktor Yanukovych before he was ousted in 2014. Furthermore, since 2016, its chairman has been under investigation for receiving illegal bribes. Given the salience and importance of the composition of the commission, the process of appointing a new CEC in Ukraine has been on-going for a couple of years now. The first attempt to replace the commission was made in June 2016 but at the time the process stalled.

On January 23, 2018, the president dismissed members of the Central Election Commission and signed a motion for the appointment of the new CEC. He followed it with a proposal of 14 new members in February. However, the Parliament failed to vote on the presidential proposal during its 8th session. Earlier this month, the president expressed his frustration on Facebook, writing that “the Verkhovna Rada should consider my presidential submission, which has been in parliament for more than a year, and elect a new composition of the CEC.”

On September 20, the Parliament successfully approved 14 new members of the CEC. The new partisan composition of the Central Electoral Commission is as follows:

Bloc Petro Poroshenko – 6 members

People’s Front – 3 members

Revival – 1 member

Batkivshchyna – 1 member

Self-Reliance – 1 member

People’s Will – 1 member

Radical Party – 1 member

Svoboda – 1 – remained in her post (until 2021)

UDAR – 1 – remained in his post (until 2021)

1 seat is currently vacant and is expected to be given to the Opposition Bloc

The members were proposed by political parties in proportion to their representation in Parliament. The only odd seat is the one which remained with UDAR. The party merged with the Bloc Petro Poroshenko in 2015.

The new CEC will organize the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections and will play a critical role in ensuring that elections are conducted in a free and fair manner.

Navigating the Electoral Tsunami: The aftermath of Mexico’s Presidential Election

This is a guest post from Javier Pérez Sandoval at the University of Oxford.

Among many other things, democracies are systems in which parties lose elections. Early this month, Mexican voters elected a new president and come December, for the third time in a row in the post-transition era, Mexico will have had a relatively peaceful party alternation in government. That is, while observers from the Organization of American States (OAS) have highlighted multiple instances in which cartel related violence threatened electoral integrity at the local level, their preliminary report also commends Mexico for successfully celebrating the largest and most complex elections in its contemporary history.

I have outlined the good, the bad and the ugly about the Mexican 2018 campaigns elsewhere. Here I intend to do three things: First, I will offer a brief account of the Election Day. Second, I will break down the results, aiming not only to summarize them but also to offer highlights and alternative explanations to what is now called the MORENA tsunami. In the third and last section, I present two political challenges faced by Andres Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) as well as one key task for Mexico’s political regime. My conclusions ponder what this electoral result could mean for Mexican democracy.

Election Day

There are multiple detailed accounts of the contenders and their coalitions and the National Electoral Institute (INE) has a fine-grained description of the Mexican electoral process. Here, however, I focus on three aspects of Election day that are worth emphasizing:

  1. Citizens’ involvement – This has been perhaps the most transparent and the most effectively watched election. Throughout the day, over 1.4 million citizens in charge of polling stations, along with 2.6 million party representatives and 33 thousand national and international observers shielded voting as a mechanism for decision making. In addition, not only did the vote-from-abroad tripled, but also, and most importantly, 63% of registered citizens voted. It is worth highlighting that the 2018 electoral race had roughly the same turnout that gave Mexico its first alternancia at the turn of the century.
  2. (Relatively) Peaceful Process – Three incidents marked election day: A) Five politically motivated murders were registered, b) Citizens in Mexico City protested ballot insufficiency at “special” (in-transit) polling stations and c) tension through the day culminated in contention in the results in the state of Puebla. Weighing up Mexico’s overall context and considering that roughly 97% of polling stations reported either minor or no incidents at all, it is safe to say that the vast majority of the population voted freely.
  3. Acknowledging the results – Not even 2 hours had passed after polling stations closed and all other candidates —Ricardo Anaya, Jose Antonio Meade and Jaime Rodríguez Calderón — had publicly recognized AMLO’s victory. While only two out of the three vote-counting stages are over, the presidential election had a clear and certain result before midnight. Mexico’s electoral authority will finish up counting the votes and come month’s end, INE will make the results official.

The Results: Re-Shaping Mexico’s Political Arena

Elsewhere I suggested that the 2018 election had the potential to completely redefine Mexico’s political landscape and looking at the electoral outcomes, it appears that they did. Considering that over 3,400 public officials were elected, a full overview of the results is beyond the scope of this paper. Consequently, I first broadly summarize the main results in Table 1 and then I move on to present three highlights and three alternative explanations for the outcome.

Table 1.- Mexico’s 2018 Results

Not only did López Obrador win by a considerable margin, but the Juntos Haremos Historia coalition (MORENA-PES-PT) also won the majority of congressional seats —at the federal and local level— along with a significant number of Governorships and Mayoralties (not displayed here).  Before presenting the highlights, it is worth noting that for the first time in Mexico’s history a) women will obtain equal participation both in Cabinet and in Congress and that b) unfortunately, the first truly independent candidates at all government levels lost their respective races. Along with these factors, the electoral outcomes have three further implications:

  1. Strong Mandate – Not only is the election an interesting case for exploring coattail effects, but also, it has been almost 4 decades since a Mexican President obtained such an ample electoral support —and it is the first time this happens under competitive elections. This fact should prove fundamental in the implementation of the coalition’s policy platform.
  2. Renewed Legitimacy – The high turnout rate, a clear mandate and the fact that Mexico will have its first left-of-centre government in 80 years, help strengthen democratic legitimacy in two ways: First, contrary to previous experiences (i.e. Mexico in 2006), there is no doubt on the social legitimacy of the newly elected government. Second, and most importantly, the 2018 process boosts the legitimacy of the electoral mechanism itself. It shows that votes —and not guns— are an effective tool for securing and redistributing political power.
  3. Political Geography– Beyond showing that democracy is now the only game in town, this outcome also tackles its uneven spread. Along with the national change, this electoral process opens up a new era of subnational politics. For the first time in Mexico’s contemporary history the majority of Governors will face divided governments, buttressing representation as well as local checks and balances. Moreover, as Map 1 shows, alternancias at the local level should reshape political bargaining across and between governmental levels.

Map 1.- Mexico’s Political 2018 Geography

To explain the results, 3 alternative hypotheses have been offered: First, some analysts suggest that angry and disenchanted voters punished Enrique Peña Nieto’s government for the multiple corruption scandals and for its poor economic performance. A second hypothesis suggests looking at AMLO’s effective campaigning, his distinct policy agenda along with his populist appeal. Closely related, the last alternative that has been offered emphasizes AMLO’s broad social and political coalition. Suffice it to say that there is enough material for social and political scientists to disentangle.

Looking Past Election Day: Upcoming Challenges

In addition to the social, international and economic challenges, in the upcoming months, the newly elected government will face two specifically political dilemmas. At the same time, the flexibility of Mexico’s presidential democratic regime will also be tested. I briefly address each of these issues below:

  1. The Delivery Paradox – It has been suggested that AMLO’s new administration is in a bind. Using his majority in Congress to implement his policy platform will allow his opponents to accuse him of brining Mexican hyper-presidentialism back; if he doesn’t, and consequently fails to comply, he risks losing popular support. Past the honeymoon period, carefully navigating this paradoxical situation will require bargaining and political innovation.
  2. Taming the beast – To secure his victory, AMLO articulated a socio-political movement in which many groups and sectors coalesced for electoral purposes. Successfully dealing with the previous challenge will require, among other things, managing to transform that movement into a somewhat disciplined and coherent party organization.
  3. Checks & Balances – Given the overwhelming support for AMLO’s government, at the regime level, in order to guarantee the survival and consolidation of democracy, finding political counterweights is key. Actors coming from three distinct arenas will play a crucial role in balancing Mexican politics: 1) Civil Society and Media, 2) International and national Markets and 3) Opposition parties. Members of these last group have a difficult task ahead, as they first need to regroup and redefine themselves. Here scholars of Mexican parties will need to be creative in exploring and explaining upcoming changes to the party system.

The night after the election citizens paraded the streets across the country, their message was one of hope and illusion. Latin America and the world also expectantly observe the Mexican political scenario. Ironically, Langston’s book on PRI’s survival was published the year in which the party obtained its worst electoral result. In their new book, Michael Albertus and Victor Menaldo, argue that flawed democracies successfully overhaul their elite-biased institutions once the old authoritarian guard passes away. Can the electoral catastrophe of the PRI be interpreted as its (political) death? And if so, will Mexican democracy consolidate? Or will it be fatally injured by this pyrrhic victory? The cards are now on the table, and as the authors clearly suggest, only time will tell.


Javier Pérez Sandoval (javier.perezsandoval@politics.ox.ac.uk) is a DPhil in Politics candidate at the University of Oxford based at Wolfson College. He hold a BA in Politics and an MPhil in Comparative Government. He is passionate about regime change, subnational politics, presidentialism and socio-economic development. He teaches the Latin American Politics tutorial to undergrads at the University of Oxford and has worked as an Associate Lecturer at Brookes University for a similar course. Beyond his keen interest in Argentinian, Brazilian and Mexican political dynamics, he is also a sci-fi and cinema aficionado.

South Korea – Local and by-elections are a strong endorsement of President Moon

Local and by-elections were held on June 13, 2018. 12 parliamentary seats were up for grabs, in addition to 17 mayoral and provincial governor positions, and 4,016 local administrative, legislative and educational posts. Exit polls show that the ruling Democratic Party (DP) has swept the elections: it has taken 11 of the 12 by-elections and 14 of the 17 local seats. The largest opposition party, the Liberty Korea Party (LKP) has been handed a significant set-back: it is expected to take only one of the by-election seats, and two of the local election races.

This year’s electoral contest is closely-watched as a harbinger of President Moon’s ability to extend the momentum of change that brought him into office more than a year ago and convert his high presidential popularity into electoral success for his party, the  DP. It is also seen as a signal the opposition conservative LKP’s ability to weather the significant political setbacks from the impeachment and subsequent conviction of former President Park Geun-hye on corruption and abuse of power charges on April 6, 2018, and the indictment of former President Lee Myung-bak on April 10, 2018, for 16 counts of embezzlement, corruption, and abuse of power. These results are a strong endorsement of President Moon, who has had a tough time pushing his agenda against the large legislative opposition led by the LKP.

President Moon promised a “major shift” in policies when he took office, and he has delivered on, arguably, the most spotlighted and highly-profiled issue of international interest for the year: the President brought North Korea and the United States together at the negotiations table in Singapore on June 12, 2018. The effort towards and accomplishment of bringing the two mercurial heads of government to discuss peace has seen President Moon’s approval ratings remain at unprecedented levels – exceeding high 70s – in the second year in office. Some of this success has brushed off on the ruling DP: it is enjoying approvals exceeding 50 percent amid falling approvals for the other parties in the legislature. These numbers bode well for the DP going into the elections, and the results have supported expectations.

Relations in the Korean peninsula will likely remain in the news for some time to come, and may continue to generate approvals for the President and the DP. This will be useful, given that the President’s other initiatives have not been as stellar. In particular, President Moon’s effort to realize constitutional revisions died in the legislature, while his push for a income-led growth in the country has been resisted by corporations, and small- and medium enterprises.

Talks of constitutional revision have been ongoing since the promulgation of the 1987 Constitution in South Korea; despite the frequency, constitutional revisions did not progress beyond discussions. The clamour for constitutional revision likely hit a peak with former President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment, and polls in September 2017 report that 78.4 percent agreed that the referendum on constitutional revisions should be held in conjunction with the June 2018 elections.

President Moon pushed the legislature on the issue but was stymied by the LDP in the legislature. Indeed, when the legislature failed to develop revisions, President Moon submitted a constitutional revision bill to the legislature on March 26, 2018. The revisions, developed by a constitutional committee, included decentralization of government and a two-term limited presidency. However, opposition parties boycotted the bill: only 114 legislators were present for the session, far short of the 192 needed to pass, thus effectively killing the bill. Given popular demand for constitutional revisions, the election results may be a signal for how voters view the resistance by the opposition parties.

Another important initiative that the President has pushed is the wage-led economic growth model. Following on this, in July 2017, the Minimum Wage Commission announced a 16 percent wage rise to 7,530 won ($6.60) per hour from 2018, with the possibility of increasing it to 10,000 won per hour by 2020. To ensure that small and medium-sized enterprises are able to meet the new wage increases, as well as to fund the new wage increases and job creation policies, the President called for new taxes. Despite these efforts, youth unemployment remains high; meanwhile, under pressure by businesses and corporations, the National Assembly and the cabinet have adopted revisions to the minimum wage bill so that calculation of minimum wage includes bonuses and benefits, including health benefits. While employers have welcomed the revisions, labor groups argue that these inclusions will effectively offset the new minimum wage policies and have called on the President to veto the bill.

The by-election and local election results are a clear endorsement for President Moon. Much can happen in the two years leading to the next general elections, but the public support, new electoral wins, and the LDP’s losses may pave the way for legislative support of the President’s policies.

Haiti – The next elections are never too far away

In the second year of his presidency Jovenel Moise could use this old saying, “I pray God to deliver me from my friends, so that I can defend myself from my enemies”, to characterize the reality of his relationship with the members of the coalitions around the party PHTK that made possible his past electoral successes. In the absence of an opposition with enough strength to control the government, the infighting in his own camp has been in full display in the last months.

The first issue concerned the composition of the cabinet. One year after the inauguration of the presidency, many legislators from the PHTK are unhappy with the way the government is holding itself. Around March of this year, some of the leaders in the two houses of parliaments begun to ask for major changes in the government. The president stated publicly on many occasions that he thought his government was doing a good job and that he did not think it was necessary to let go of some of the ministers.

But around April 20 the political situation accelerated rapidly. A group of legislators registered a motion of interpellation against the prime minister and demanded changes in 72 hours, or the government would face a no-confidence vote. Before the ultimatum had expired, the president announced the replacement of 5 ministers. Table I shows the name of the new and old head of each Ministry.

Table I. New names in the Cabinet in Haiti

Minister

Name of the new minister

Name of the old minister

Interior and Territorial Communities

Jean Mary Reynaldo Brunet

Rudolph St. Albin

Justice

Jean Roudy Aly

Heidi Fortuné

Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development

Jobert C. Angrand

Carmel Béliard

Culture and Communication

Guyler C. Delva

Limond Toussaint

Haitians Living Abroad

Guy André Junior Francois

Stéphanie Auguste (she held the post in interim)

The new Ministers, especially in the case of Brunet and Delva, respectively Ministers of Interior and Culture and Communication, are known for their close relationship with former president Martelly, whose ambitions to become president again is a growing concern among some of his detractors. But, at the same time, the changes also demonstrate the nervousness among some legislators of the PHTK about the next parliamentary elections, which are due in the second semester of 2019.

The changes to the composition of the government come in the context of an intense debate about the best way to combat the rising level of insecurity that many communities have been experiencing in the last months. The representatives of the PHTK in parliament know that it will be difficult to secure another term with the high level of insecurity that the country is facing in this moment. Hence their desire to regain some  of the initiative through the changes to the Ministers of Justice and Interior. That gives them both a chance to try new approaches and, in passing, a tool to control the territory prior to the scheduled parliamentary elections of next year.

So far, the solutions introduced by the new ministers of Interior and Justice have not convinced any one. In face of the insecurity, they have prioritized a strategy of open confrontation with the gang members that has produced many victims in the communities already besieged by them. The Minister of Justice has gone so far as to jail journalists that allow gangs members to use their programs. In a letter sent to their associations, he declared that those who open their microphone to gang members will be considered as their accomplices.

At the same time, the Minister of Justice has decided to modify, through a presidential decree, the ability of the National Director of the Police to control the troops. The new decree, in a decision that clearly runs contrary to the law, obliges the head of the Police to seek the approval of the Higher Council of the Police, a political institution directed by the Primer Minister, for any changes to the rank and file of the institution. The new decision has been interpreted as an effort to politicize the operation of the institution.

Ironically, the changes in the cabinet that were designed to give the governing party more space to manoeuvre have generated more problems for the government. Even the weak and fragmented opposition has found a new reason to try to reactivate its troops against the government.

Many PHTK legislators have publicly criticised the government. Some are still unhappy about the scope of the changes in the cabinet. Others think that changes in the government should also address other pressing social problems. Many are against the idea being discussed by the government to stop subsidizing gas prices, which represent around 2% of the GDP while Health spending is just 0.8% of the GDP.

In this sense, Jovenel Moise has a real dilemma on his hands. His principal critics are now his own ‘allies’. The actual fight for the control of the government might even foretell the results of the next presidential election in 2021.

Zimbabwe – President Mnangagwa makes his electoral play for international legitimacy

On 30 May 2018, President Emmerson Mnangagwa finally set the date for the long-anticipated Zimbabwean elections. The polls will inevitably be remarkable, as they are the first in 38 years without former President Robert Mugabe on the ballot. The opposition is also fronting a new and untested candidate following the death of opposition titan, Morgan Tsvangirai, in February. As a result, this election has quickly moved into uncharted territory.

While ZANU-PF has used extensive electoral manipulation, intimidation and violence in the past, they are more constrained in 2018 by vastly increased global interest in the polls. Following nearly 20 years as a pariah state, relations between Zimbabwe and the international community have begun to thaw in 2018. President Mnangagwa, who came to power in a military coup in November, is eager to assert his democratic credentials to give the government the legitimacy boost that it needs to restart international lending.

The 2018 election is the last hurdle that he needs to clear before his government will get the global stamp of approval.

The ‘New Dispensation’

In trying to garner such legitimacy, Mnangagwa is trying hard to show that it will truly be a new Zimbabwe under his leadership. There have been some positive moves in terms of electoral administration. In early June, the Judicial Services Commission appointed and deployed magistrates to deal with politically-motivated violence during the campaign.

The National Peace and Reconciliation Commission appears to be throwing off its long hibernation since its creation in 2013. The enabling act for the country’s transitional justice mechanism was only passed in 2018, under the new administration. The opposition also seems to have been able to mobilise largely unhindered – contrary to their experiences of sustained state harassment during previous polls.

The MDC Alliance held a protest in front of the Electoral Commission’s offices on 5 June in Harare, and many expected it to be marred by clashes with a planned ZANU-PF counter-demonstration. However, this was called off by the ruling party’s leadership who were wary of attracting negative publicity and compromising the credibility of the election.

Plus ça change…

But despite the claims of a ‘new dispensation,’ few things have changed for ordinary Zimbabweans since November. Cash and foreign exchange shortages continue to cripple the economy, formal unemployment remains stubbornly at over 90% and public services are still woefully inadequate. The government recently raised the ire of the public sector by firing 16 000 striking nurses from an already-paralysed healthcare system. It is hard to see how Zimbabwean voters could possibly vote for the party that has overseen the country’s protracted decline.

But Mnangagwa remains the incumbent, and that comes with major advantages. The public media have continued to largely exclude the opposition and trumpet the president’s successes, and the electoral commission has begun to stall key processes for verifying the credibility of the process. The opposition appears to be woefully underfunded, and the ruling party is believed to currently be out-spending them by nearly $50 to every dollar they spend.

Although the president has promised a free and fair election, there remain worrying signs of intimidation in rural areas. A deputy minister announced at a rally in late May that the army would not allow the opposition to take power and although it was quickly denounced by the ruling party, it cements existing fears by many Zimbabweans of the dangers that elections pose. Just-released Afrobarometer survey results suggest that the majority of voters don’t believe that the army will allow the opposition to win the polls.

The Electoral Resource Centre, a Harare-based NGO, recently released findings that while electoral administration appears to have improved in the 2018 polls, the use of intimidation, vote buying and the widespread belief that there is no secrecy of the ballot undermines the process. But at the same time, the electoral commission failed to put the ballot procurement out to tender, raising serious concerns about the secrecy ZEC has maintained around the chosen providers of key electoral materials. This was a major concern in the 2013 polls, and it undermined the credibility of the process.

What about the Opposition?

The opposition lost their long-running leader on Valentine’s Day, and suffered through a damaging succession process. But contrary to experiences in 2008 and 2013, a broad coalition of opposition forces has united behind 40-year old Advocate Nelson Chamisa. He is running on a platform which seeks to maximise the youth vote, dubbed #GenerationalConsensus. Up against a 75-year old incumbent, Chamisa has made much of his youthful energy during the campaign, stopping to do push-ups during marches in the capital.

With a young population, few of whom remember the horrors of the 1970s liberation war and had little experience of the prosperity of the 1980s and early 1990s, Zimbabwe’s youths only know economic contraction and joblessness. Chamisa is selling big ideas, like bullet trains and bringing the football world cup to Harare. It’s hard to say how Zimbabweans feel about these promises.

The opposition is struggling against serious financial shortcomings after most of their traditional funders abandoned them after the 2013 elections. Polls released by Afrobarometer suggest that while support for the opposition has increased (from a very low base), they remain several points behind the incumbent. Their rallies have thus far been well-attended, but it’s unclear whether they can convert rally attendance into votes on 30 July.

Finally, the opposition coalition appears to be considering a very risky strategy. Although Mugabe was pushed out of power, he doesn’t seem happy to while away his days away from the political fray. Most of the members of ZANU-PF who were forced out in the wake of the November coup have resurfaced in the newly-created and (ostensibly) Mugabe-backed National Patriotic Front. In a shock move at the MDC protest on 5 June, members of this party endorsed the MDC Alliance ahead of the polls.

A cash-strapped opposition is now trying to gauge whether Mugabe’s endorsement would be good or bad for their electoral prospects. In Zimbabwe’s rapidly reconfiguring politics, it’s hard to reliably predict the effects of such cross-party collaboration. For a country that suffered for so long under Mugabe, it might just be enough to push some staunch opposition members out of the electoral process. But proponents argue that any help is good help against Mnangagwa’s ‘junta.’

With less than two months to go until the elections, all bets are off in Zimbabwe.

Cameroon – Crisis, Opposition Primaries, and Senatorial Elections

Cameroon is now in the midst of an escalating civil conflict, which some have already termed a nascent civil war. Over the past six months the crisis has taken a brutal turn as several secessionist militant groups under the umbrella of the “Ambazonia Movement” have clashed repeatedly with security forcesand engaged in hostage taking. The government’s response has been violent – indiscriminate killing, burned villages, and now over 160,000 displaced people. In one recent instance, 39 people were killedin the Northwestern village of Menka, including women and children. In May, U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon, Peter Henry Barlerin, accused the government of targeted killing of Anglophones, and warned President Paul Biya that he should be concerned with his legacy. There is no dialogue to speak of, or a readily apparent exit ramp that could deescalate tensions.

Concurrent with this crisis, some modicum of electoral politics persists in anticipation of a legislative and presidential election this fall. No date for these elections has been announced, and there are rumors of a possible delay due to the security situation. Nonetheless, earlier this year the opposition party the Social Democratic Front (SDF) held primaries to nominate a presidential candidate. The SDF chose sitting parliamentarian Joshua Osih, a significant shift in SDF politics. For nearly three decades the SDF’s co-founder and perpetual presidential candidate, John Fru Ndi, has dominated the party. Fru Ndi remains the SDF’s chairman, but Osih rise reflects a new generation of opposition leadership. By contrast, the SDF lost ground during March’s senatorial election, and the ruling party now controls 90% of senate seats.

The SDF is Cameroon’s most significant opposition party, and was one of the primary organizations that sparked Cameroon’s democratic transition in the early 1990s. While the party at one point held more national appeal and could run candidates in all of Cameroon’s regions, it has always had deeper roots in the Anglophone North and South West. During Cameroon’s foundational elections in 1992, Fru Ndi won 36% of the vote to Biya’s 40%, and fraud was likely a factor in Fru Ndi’s loss.

However, over the years there has been a steady decline in the party’s viability. This is partially the result of strategic errors and internal wrangling. In 1992 the SDF controversially boycotted the legislative election, which helped the CPDM recover from a devastating electoral performance and form a temporary coalition with a minor party. In 2004 Fru Ndi rejected the decision of the National Reconciliation and Reconstruction Coalition (CRRN) to nominate Adamou Njoya as the opposition’s unified presidential candidate, and decided to run himself. Indeed, John Fru Ndi’s personalization and domination of the party has been a cause of bitter factionalism. For instance, in 2006, a wing of the party led by Clement Ngwasiri was expelledfollowing intra-party violence. In 2010 rising star Kah Wallah also left the party in criticism of Fru Ndi. These factors have hurt the SDF’s electoral support. In 2011 Fru Ndi won just 11% of the vote, and in 2013 the SDF grabbed just 10% of the legislative seats.

With the SDF’s dwindling electoral prospects the party has played a more mainstream and conservative style of politics. Some observers within the SDF note the continued influence of a radical and oppositional wing, but also a stratum of moderate politicians and many elites who seem aligned and quite comfortable with the CPDM. In 2010, Fru Ndi’s decision to seemingly reconcile with Biyaalso drew criticism from party many hardliners, and for some harmed the SDF’s popular appeal. Unsurprisingly, the current crisis in English-speaking areas has emerged independently of the SDF. While the party has commented on the crisis, it has taken a backseat to the civil society and youth-backed components of the opposition movement.

Joshua Osih, a charismatic 49-year old member of parliament, reflects a generational shift within the SDF (his main opponent was 70-year old Fobi Nchinda Simon), and Cameroon more broadly. Osih is a party insider, who started as a base militant in the 1990s before becoming the Regional Chair of the party for South West region. A few years later he was elected as 2ndVice-Chair of the party and then as 1stVice-Chair.  He is chairman of the influential finance committee, and therefore works very closely with many CPDM members of parliament. Osih maintains a number of businesses in Littoral region – most notably his aviation cargo corporation Camport Plc. He is also bilingual, which provides him with a certain crosscutting appeal, particularly among the exploding and increasingly frustrated urban youth demographic (see for instance the novelty in Cameroon of a campaign website, www.osih2018.com). Osih has also been vocal in his support of a return to federalism, and a trenchant critic of hyper-presidentialism in Cameroon.

These factors make him a very versatile candidate. He can maintain the backing of the SDF establishment, while also garnering support among the opposition movement in North and South West. His rapport with many CPDM members, in particular younger members of parliament who are frustrated with the status quo in their own party, buttress Osih’s appeal outside of English-speaking areas. It is less clear whether he can anchor an opposition coalition that brings together other potential presidential candidates, like 65-year old Akere Muna, or the leadership of other opposition parties. It is also unlikely that Osih will win if Biya runs. Biya’s control of massive patronage resources, state institutions, and the election management body give him an insurmountable advantage. But, Osih could give the regime a real run for their money. Already, some media outletshave circulated reports that he is ineligible to run for election because he might hold a Swiss passport. Other rumors suggest that some CPDM insiders are considering fast tracking their own young Anglophone candidate to replace Biya.

The Senate elections held on March 25 do demonstrate the uphill battle facing the SDF, but should not be used to predict future performance. The SDF’s seat share was cut in half to just 7 seats (all in the North West region), and the party has called for the election’s annulment. However, these elections are indirect. Municipal councilors elect 70 of the seats, and the President appoints the remaining thirty. This gives the ruling party an enormous advantage, since they control the bulk of the municipal councils. Moreover, the Senate is constitutionally weak and a clear patronage tool used to rally a certain segment of the political elite. These factors, along with the still evolving security situation and question of presidential succession, make the fall elections potentially much more competitive.