Ramphele debacle leaves South African opposition reeling


Less than a week after anti-apartheid activist Mamphela Ramphele became the presidential candidate of the Democratic Alliance (DA), the second-largest political party in South Africa, Ramphele on Sunday backed out of her decision to lead the South African opposition into expected spring parliamentary elections.south africa flag

Though the deal would have merged the DA with Ramphele’s smaller party, AgangSA, founded just over a year ago, the merger collapsed over whether AgangSA would remain a separate entity or would be collapsed entirely within the Democratic Alliance.

It’s a short-sighted decision that leaves neither Ramphele nor Helen Zille (pictured above), the leader of the Democratic Alliance and premier of Western Cape province, looking very skilful.  The collapse of the Ramphele-led alliance must surely rank among the worst self-inflicted disasters of recent world politics.

Zille, in particular, released a harshly worded statement late Sunday savaging Ramphele:

“This about-turn will come as a disappointment to the many South Africans who were inspired by what could have been a historic partnership,” Zille said.  “By going back on the deal, again… Dr Ramphele has demonstrated – once and for all – she cannot be trusted to see any project through to its conclusion. This is a great pity.”

Insisting that the DA had negotiated with Ramphele in good faith, Zille added: “Since Tuesday’s announcement, Dr Ramphele has been playing a game of cat and mouse – telling the media one thing, Agang supporters another thing, and the DA another.  “It is not clear what her objective is, but whatever it is, it is not in the interests of the South African people.”

Without Ramphele, the Democratic Alliance seemed set for its most successful election since its foundation in 2000.  Zille won 16.7% of the vote in the previous April 2009 elections, 23.9% of the national vote in May 2011 municipal elections, and the party seemed headed to win one-quarter or even one-third of the vote in the upcoming parliamentary elections.  Though Zille has a hold on Western Cape province, party leaders hope to make breakthroughs in Eastern Cape and Northern Cape provinces, as well as in Gauteng province, where former Johannesburg mayoral candidate and city council member Mmusi Maimane has helped transform the party’s local (and national) image. 

That won’t necessarily change because of the tumultuous courtship with Ramphele and AgangSA, but it doesn’t make Zille look like an incredibly strong leader to hand her party’s presidential nomination to someone who flaked out within hours of receiving it.  South Africa’s election must be held before July 2014, and if it takes place closer to July than, say, to April or May, the Ramphele breakup stands a good chance of receding into the background.  But it also means that, barring a major turn of events, Zille will have to recalibrate expectations from ‘historic breakthrough’ back down to incremental gains.  Continue reading Ramphele debacle leaves South African opposition reeling

Former diplomat Solís leapfrogs to top of Tico presidential race


Before yesterday’s presidential election, polls showed Luis Guillermo Solís, an academic and former diplomat, in fourth place in the race to become Costa Rica’s next president.  costa_rica_flag

But on the strength of a surge in momentum at the end of the campaign, Solís (pictured above) not only elbowed his way into an expected April 6 runoff (only the second such runoff in the country’s history), but leapfrogged all the way to the top spot, edging out the frontrunner, San José mayor Johnny Araya, and the younger, more populist leftist José María Villalta.  More recent surveys indicated a definite upswing in support as Solís capitalized on a strong performance in the final presidential debate, but even a late January poll showed Solís behind Araya, Villata and a conservative candidate, Otto Guevara.

Solís ultimately outpolled Araya by a little over 1% of the vote as undecided voters appear to have lined up solidly for the former diplomat — and he even defeated Araya in San José municipality, despite the fact that Araya has served as the city’s mayor since 1998.


So what happened? Continue reading Former diplomat Solís leapfrogs to top of Tico presidential race

Sánchez Cerén exceeds expectations in first-round Salvadoran vote


With almost every vote  counted tonight, here’s where the Salvadoran election stands:el salvador

In El Salvador, vice president Salvador Sánchez Cerén commanded 48.92% of the vote against the center-right San Salvador mayor Norman Quijano, who has won 38.95% of the vote, with 99.15% of the vote reporting.


Though Sánchez Cerén (pictured above, top) was favored in most polls to the first round of the Salvadoran presidency, he wasn’t expected to come so close to winning the entire presidency — essentially within 1.07% of nabbing the absolute majority he would need to take the presidency in a first-round victory.

That result is much better than Sánchez Cerén’s Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN, Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front) could have hoped for.  It’s not only a first-round win, but it significantly outpaces polling expectations that put Sánchez Cerén equal to or behind Quijano, the candidate of El Salvador’s center-right Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA, Nationalist Republican Alliance).  It’s a vote for enhancing the social welfare programs and the turn to the Alianza Bolivariana (ALBA) in Salvadoran governance.

Though Sánchez Cerén is now favored to win the March 9 runoff against Quijano, but it’s not a certain outcome.  Third-place candidate, former president Elías Antonio ‘Tony’ Saca, who won a somewhat disappointing, 11.44% of the vote, will almost certainly back Quijano and even if he doesn’t, it’s hard to believe his voter base support Sánchez Cerén.

That means that though Sánchez Cerén outpaced Quijano by essentially a 10% margin, the runoff could be very close, and it will become a classic left/right race to determine Salvadoran economic policy, regional alliances and the best strategy to solve violent crime.  Sánchez Cerén, a former guerrilla leader for the once-Marxist FMLN during the Salvador civil war of 1979-92, is further to the left of outgoing president Mauricio Funes, a former journalist and the first FMLN candidate to win election since the end of the Salvadoran civil war. Quijano, however, has been dogged by allegations of corruption and ties to past ARENA officials who are under investigation, including former president Francisco Flores.