Africa

MIDRAND

Pan African Parliament presidential election this week could get rough again

Pan African Parliament presidential election this week could get rough again
PanAfrican Parliament members regather in Midrand after the sitting was adjourned in June 20212 by chaotic scenes that errupted over disputes on a rotational system for the presidency of the organisation. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla / Daily Maverick)

The principle of a rotating Pan African Parliament presidency, which southern Africa insists on, is still not accepted by all.

Fireworks could erupt again on Wednesday this week — as they did a year ago — when the Pan African Parliament (PAP) meets in Midrand and tries once more to elect its president. Southern Africa is expecting its official candidate, Zimbabwean Zanu PF Senator, Chief Fortune Charumbira, to be elected unopposed because it says that west, central and east Africa have all held the presidency before — and north Africa is also backing Charumbira.

South Sudan MP Albino Aboug is challenging southern Africa’s Zimbabwe candidate, Zanu PF Senator, Chief Fortune Charumbira. (Photo: Supplied)

But not all other regions have yet accepted southern Africa’s insistence that the presidency should rotate among Africa’s five regions, despite the African Union apparently officially backing this principle. The east African PAP caucus has largely backed South Sudanese MP and former child soldier Albino Aboug as its candidate, though the support of some Ethiopian MPs remains uncertain. 

To further complicate the election, Malawian and PAP MP Yeremiah Chihana has challenged the southern caucus’s nomination of Charumbira as its official candidate and has thrown his hat into the ring.

Violence

So the election could once again get messy. A year ago a chaotic and violent dispute in the PAP’s chamber in Midrand over the principle of rotating the presidency forced the cancellation of the election of the president and four vice-presidents. These positions have since remained vacant. 

Like this year, the southern African region insisted in June 2021 that only the south and the north could stand for election as the west, central and eastern regions had already held the post. Some other regions rejected the principle and insisted on a contested election.

That led to physical battles to seize the podium, verbal abuse, bodily assaults and an exchange of death threats between EFF leader and PAP MP Julius Malema and the Malian MP who was trying to run for the presidency as the candidate of West Africa.

The ANC’s chief whip in the South African Parliament, Pemmy Majodina, who is also a PAP MP, threatened to lay criminal charges against Senegalese MP Djibril War who she said had kicked her. But he later claimed it was an accident and apologised, which she accepted.

Rotation principle

After last year’s embarrassing pandemonium, the African Union Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat directed the AU’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) to examine the principle of rotation. It decided the rotation principle which applies to other AU elections should also apply to the PAP.

It sent a memorandum to the PAP saying that the AU’s executive council of ministers had endorsed the principle of rotation at a meeting on 14/15  October 2021 and had instructed the OLC to conduct the PAP elections this week, according to that principle.

But South Sudan, which is backing its MP Aboug for the PAP presidency, wrote to Faki last week disputing the OLC’s decision. Foreign minister Mayiik Ayii Deng told Faki the draft decision endorsing the principle of rotation had not been adopted at the 14/15 October 2021 meeting of the AU executive council and so the OLC had been misleading the PAP.

The east African caucus of PAP MPs has also largely rejected the principle of rotation and is backing Aboug, sources told Daily Maverick. Its view is that the African Union cannot dictate to the PAP, which is an autonomous body and so an open election should be held on Wednesday and then the newly constituted PAP assembly should decide for itself whether the rotation principle should apply in the future, and should legislate accordingly. 

Deep divisions

Though north Africa has also never held the presidency, it is not expected to nominate a candidate this week because deep divisions, mainly between Morocco and Algeria, make it impossible for it to agree on a single candidate. So it is backing the southern African candidate, sources said. 

Apart from the likely dispute on Wednesday between east and southern Africa, a division has also emerged within the southern African caucus. Malawian MP Chihana has announced himself as a candidate for the PAP presidency in a letter to Faki, to current AU chairperson and President of Senegal Macky Sall, and to others.

One of his advantages over Charumbira, he said, was that Malawi was not due to hold elections until 2025 so he would be able to serve his full years as PAP president whereas Zimbabwe goes to elections next year, when Charumbira would have to step down as a PAP MP, according to PAP rules, as the Zimbabwean parliament would have to be dissolved for elections. 

Chihana endorses the principle of rotating the presidency, but notes that among southern African countries, Malawi, Botswana, Lesotho, Zambia, Eswatini and South Africa have never held either the presidency or a vice-presidency. 

He suggests that if the southern region insists on the principle of rotation among Africa’s regions, it should also accept it within the southern region. He has also told PAP officials that Charumbira has already served a term as a PAP vice-president and as acting president for several months last year, so he in particular should not be running again this year.

It is possible, however, that the southern caucus could meet before Wednesday’s election to resolve Chihana’s challenge and agree on one candidate — very likely to be Charumbira.

Standoff fears

However, a Charumbira-Aboug standoff between the southern and eastern regions could set the scene for another tumultuous election on Wednesday — in the presence of Sall and Faki who are scheduled to attend. 

Some might consider this all far too much ado about very little as the PAP has no more than advisory powers anyway. When it was launched 18 years ago, the intention was that it would eventually evolve into a body empowered to adopt legislation binding on the AU’s 55 member states. 

But this is still a distant goal. Aboug had told his supporters that if elected president, he would plan to give the PAP full legislative powers within 18 months. All the member states would have to agree to that, however.

Aboug was a child soldier in the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army fighting the Sudan government in Khartoum and later became a refugee and was educated in the US. He is now a special envoy for President Salva Kiir and has held many diplomatic positions across Africa.

Former Speaker of the Kenyan parliament Kenneth Marende, who mentored Aboug for many years, said, “Aboug brings a fresh perspective to the parliament, and unparalleled insight of a child soldier, turned refugee, who became a business magnate and political leader in Africa.”

Aboug calls himself a “self-made man who battled his whole life for the freedom of Africans”. DM

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