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Russian election 2021: Putin’s United Russia clings on to supermajority PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 26 September 2021 14:29

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/russian-election-2021-putins-united-russia-party-clings-on-to-supermajority-vlhxtx6gv

Russian election 2021: Putin’s United Russia clings on to supermajority

Uliana Pavlova 21/09/2021

 

President Putin’s party has been declared to have won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections, despite polls showing historically low support and amid claims of widespread election fraud.

 

United Russia won nearly 50 per cent of the national vote, meaning that it will retain a two-thirds “supermajority” in the State Duma, or parliament, and pass laws without the need for alliances. With 99 per cent of ballots counted, the Communist Party was the second largest party with almost 20 per cent of the vote.

 

The official results were dismissed by opposition groups, who accused the state of gerrymandering through ballot stuffing, the coercion of voters and committing widespread online voting fraud.

 

In Moscow, an opposition stronghold, early exit polls that showed strong leads for Communist and other candidates endorsed by the jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny under his “smart voting” project. After online votes were tallied, however, candidates from the Kremlin-endorsed list saw huge swings in their favour and won every district. Mikhail Lobanov, a Communist candidate who had been far ahead in polling, said the results were “simply not possible” and his party said that it would not recognise the results.

 

Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s spokeswoman, tweeted: “Electronic voting robbed this procedure of even a hint of reality.”

Lyubov Sobol, an ally of Navalny, said: “With such a colossal number of violations, the results of the State Duma elections cannot be recognised as clean, honest or legitimate.”

 

Independent polling by the Levada Centre before the election showed United Russia on about 15 per cent support in Moscow.

 

Navalny’s smart voting strategy aimed to unseat United Russia candidates by publishing a list of alternative candidates a few days before the elections. The Kremlin forced the US tech giants Google and Apple to remove an associated app from its app stores on Friday and accused the US government of collusion in the project.

 

Navalny’s organisations were banned as “extremist” before the election, his top allies were arrested or fled and anyone associated with his groups was kept from running.

 

The US State Department cast doubt on the integrity of Russia’s parliamentary election today, saying that a crackdown on critics by the government had “prevented the Russian people from exercising their civil and political rights”.

 

Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, said: “The September 17-19 Duma elections in the Russian Federation took place under conditions not conducive to free and fair proceedings.”

 

At a celebratory rally at United Russia’s headquarters broadcast on state television, Sergei Sobyanin, the mayor of Moscow and an ally of the Russian leader, shouted: “Putin! Putin! Putin!” to a receptive crowd that echoed his chant.

Golos, an election watchdog accused by the authorities of being a foreign agent, recorded thousands of violations, including threats against observers and ballot stuffing, blatant examples of which circulated on social media. Some individuals were shown on camera appearing to deposit bundles of votes in urns.

 

Meanwhile, in elections in Chechnya, the pro-Kremlin leader Ramzan Kadyrov gained 99.7 per cent of votes to retain his position.

 
Hakainde Hichilema vows to free Zambia from corruption PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 28 August 2021 20:15

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/president-hakainde-hichilema-vows-to-free-zambia-from-corruption-z8hhj769z

Hakainde Hichilema vows to free Zambia from corruption

Jane Flanagan, Cape Town – 25/08/2021

 

Zambia’s new president was sworn in yesterday following his landslide election victory, in front of a VIP guest list that put Africa’s autocrats on notice.

 

Hakainde Hichilema, 59, took the oath of office in the capital Lusaka before jubilant supporters, heads of state and their political rivals in an acknowledgment of the new president’s lengthy stint as a political outsider.

 

On his sixth bid for the presidency, Hichilema defeated the incumbent Edgar Lungu, 64, by almost one million votes – despite restrictions on campaigning, a crackdown on his supporters and reported attempts at rigging in favour of Lungu’s party.

 

As the packed Heroes Stadium clapped and roared approval, Hichilema told the crowd: “Democracy is the way to go — for Zambia, the people of Africa and the world.” He pledged to root out corruption, invest in education and rebuild an economy buckling under a $12 billion debt mountain.

 

“No Zambian should go to be hungry,” the leader told his supporters, who call him “HH” or “Bally” — an informal term for father.

 

The majority for his United Party for National Development marked Zambia’s third transfer of power through the ballot box since the founding president Kenneth Kaunda stood down after reluctantly agreeing to multi-party elections.

 

Hichilema has been arrested many times since he switched from a successful business career to politics, but he thanked his predecessor for his service and peaceful surrender of power, against all predictions that Lungu would attempt to cling on.

 

“I came to witness the total burying of Lungu and corruption,” said Mateyo Simukonda, 36, who had travelled overnight from the country’s mining heartlands to watch the ceremony. “We have now put him [Lungu] to rest and let him rest in peace.”

 

Growing repression and economic mismanagement during Lungu’s six years in office had prompted fears that Zambia would become a “new Zimbabwe”. Debt as a share of GDP rose on his watch from 34 per cent to 110 per cent, diverting budgets from basic services and sending food prices sharply upwards.

 

Although ruling party efforts to hinder Hichilema’s campaign left him “effectively competing with one hand tied behind his back”, according to Sishuwa Sishuwa, from the University of Zambia, strategic deals with smaller opposition parties and the huge turnout of 71 per cent delivered a victory that was too big to be stolen.

 

The opposition victory comes at a time when democracy is generally receding worldwide and African dictators are making the most of pandemic restrictions. It also follows last year’s overturning of a stolen election in Malawi, and the trend has unsettled some.

 

President Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe, whose main rival, Nelson Chamisa, joined him in the Lusaka stadium, has already warned opponents not to harbour similar ambitions. Commenting on a picture of Zimbabwe’s opposition leader with the new Zambian president, Mnangagwa’s information secretary compared Chamisa to a bridesmaid who never becomes the bride.

 

President Masisi of Botswana was more gracious and gave a seat on his plane to the ceremony to Dumelang Saleshando, the leader of his opposition.

 
Hakainde Hichilema: I’ll recharge economy says new Zambian leader PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 21 August 2021 18:11

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/hakainde-hichilema-ill-recharge-economy-says-new-zambian-leader-5bl0gplnr

Hakainde Hichilema: I’ll recharge economy says new Zambian leader

Jonathan Clayton Wednesday 18August 2021

 

Zambia’s president-elect is planning on soaring global demand for electric car batteries to ignite his country’s sluggish economy and help power it to a new future. 

 

Hakainde Hichilema, or “HH” as he is popularly known, won a landslide victory in last week’s poll largely as a result of the votes of millions of young unemployed Zambians angered by the economic misery resulting from the failed policies of the outgoing president, Edgar Lungu.

 

Chanting “We want jobs”, many unemployed graduates wore their graduation gowns to the polling stations to drive home the point. Hichilema, 59, knows their anger will be turned against him if he fails in his stated aim of creating an annual economic growth rate of 10 per cent.

 

In his acceptance speech on Monday, he pledged major structural and policy changes in all sectors but particularly mining. Zambia is the second largest copper producer in Africa but it also has large reserves of the minor metal, cobalt — a crucial element in lithium car batteries used to power the new generation of carbon-free electric vehicles.

 

Electric car producers such as Tesla are stepping up production to meet demand. Mining analysts say alternatives to cobalt are limited and unlikely to be sufficient to prevent a global deficit. The other global supplier is Democratic Republic of Congo, which borders Zambia’s northwestern copper belt, but the use of child miners and other human rights issues deters buyers.

 

Unlike Congo, Zambia has the capacity to refine cobalt on a large scale for use in battery manufacturing. During the campaign Hichilema pledged to revive the country’s refining capability, which he said had been run into the ground by the previous administration.

 

“It will be an enormous task but it will be done,” he said.

 

Under Lungu, foreign investors shied away from Zambia, which defaulted on its debt last November. Hichilema, a former businessman with an MBA from the University of Birmingham, has pledged to reduce state control of industry and reduce Zambia’s reliance on Chinese infrastructure projects.

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The Times view on Hakainde Hichilema’s election: Zambian Democracy PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 21 August 2021 18:03

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/the-times-view-on-hakainde-hichilemas-election-zambian-democracy-x70zc2jg6

The Times view on Hakainde Hichilema’s election: Zambian Democracy

A decisive victory for an economic reformer is good new for sub-Saharan Africa

Wednesday, 18 August 2021

 

Democracy rests on the willingness of the incumbent to respect constitutional procedures and, if defeated, to relinquish office. Since Edgar Lungu was elected president of Zambia in 2015, he has shown a disturbing propensity for repression, prompting fears that a further electoral victory would cement him in a state of arbitrary power.

 

Mr Lungu has indeed sought to hinder and impede his opponents. He has blocked the internet, used Covid as an excuse to restrict opposition rallies and deployed troops throughout the country, allegedly to maintain order. Despite these efforts he has not prevailed. Hakainde Hichilema, a businessman, instead won last week’s presidential election by a handsome margin of almost a million votes. The final count and Mr Lungu’s speedy concession surprised many who predicted a tight contest and a drawn-out dispute over the validity of the result.

 

It is good news for Zambia and Africa. Mr Lungu’s illiberal conduct failed to secure him victory, and he appears to have been punished for demonstrable economic mismanagement. During his six years in office, government debt as a share of GDP has risen from 34 per cent to 110 per cent and annual inflation reached 25 per cent in July, slashing the real incomes of Zambians. Mr Hichilema faces a tremendous challenge in embarking on structural reforms of the economy, but gives every indication of understanding the need to promote productive enterprise and market mechanisms to do so.

 

Since Kenneth Kaunda stood down in 1991, elections in Zambia have been competitively contested with a peaceful transition of power. Mr Hichilema’s willingness to challenge a failed and increasingly authoritarian president instils hope that Africa can realise its economic potential and democracy can improve the lives of its people.

 
Orgy of looting and corruption has destroyed Mandela’s dream PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 17 July 2021 17:33

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/orgy-of-looting-and-corruption-has-destroyed-mandelas-dream-2k55sl7kh

 

Orgy of looting and corruption has destroyed Mandela’s dream

 

After decades of crony capitalism and misrule by the ANC, South Africa is sliding into anarchy, the poor are plundering what the can and pointing the finger at their leaders – who have stolen much more, says R W Johnson in Cape Town.

 

RW Johnson, Friday July 16 2021, 5.00pm, The Times

 

In 1994 the world greeted the new South Africa under Nelson Mandela with euphoria: apartheid abolished and a harmonious non-racial state determined to build an inclusive economy and society. Last week looting and destruction rolled across its economic heartland of Gauteng (including Johannesburg and Pretoria) and KwaZulu-Natal, which includes the country’s two biggest ports, Durban and Richards Bay.

 

So far 117 people have died, many hundreds are injured and hundreds of shopping malls, supermarkets, warehouses and factories have been burnt down. Armed vigilantes guard many suburbs. Old schoolfriends from Durban tell me they have reverted to fishing at the beach as the only way to feed their families. Those with money wouldn’t dream of investing anything to restore the damage: their money is heading straight offshore.

 

This huge failure can only be laid at the feet of the African National Congress (ANC), now in power for 27 years. The party is deeply corrupt, its ministers inept and incompetent, and many of its policies are damaging the economy. The party is riven by factionalism with President Ramaphosa’s moderates opposed by the former president Jacob Zuma’s left-wing kleptocrats. The explosion of violence followed the jailing of Zuma for his flagrant contempt of court, after he had refused to co-operate with the inquiry into the looting of the state under his presidency. Nobody seriously doubts that Zuma stole millions, probably billions, of rands and he still faces charges of racketeering, money-laundering and sundry other crimes. But Zuma, still supported by his Zulu followers, threatened to make the country ungovernable if the government dared to jail him.

 

The rioting began as Zuma’s followers, urged on by his children and, doubtless, by Zuma himself, sought to fulfil this threat. Former members of the state security services who played such a key role in his presidency helped plan the sabotage campaign — they are now on the run. Zuma has always had strong connections into criminal networks via his relatives in the taxi industry, and these have clearly been active too.

 

The campaign began with the hijacking and burning of lorries. The police, scared and ineffective, watched but did nothing. Next came the looting and burning of a few shops. Again the police did nothing. Word spread that you could go “shopping without money”, creating huge excitement among the ranks of the millions of poor and unemployed Zulus who inhabit the townships and squatter camps around Durban and Pietermaritzburg. From there word spread quickly into every small town of the province.

 

Most of the looters were unconcerned about Zuma’s fate: they simply realised that opportunity was staring them in the face. They flocked to the shopping malls and began to loot them. Quickly the spree spread to Johannesburg, home to many more Zulus, though many others joined in. Most of the looters were poor, on foot and took away their loot in supermarket trolleys, but some arrived in cars, sometimes very expensive cars. Some even came with vast trailers to haul away freezers, fridges and cookers. Huge queues of cars swamped the freeways, all heading for the malls, and other forms of criminality blossomed — protection rackets, attacks on and thefts from other motorists, anything that offered a quick buck.

 

In reality this had been coming for a long time. When the ANC was first elected in 1994 its posters promised “Jobs, jobs, jobs!” but little heed was paid to that once it gained office. In 1995 the average number of unemployed according to official figures was 1,698,000 or, if the total included those who had given up looking for a job, 3,321,000. That figure has grown steadily to surpass 11.4 million. Since the unemployed have no income, this has also meant a huge growth in both poverty and inequality. Indeed, South Africa is now the most unequal society in the world.

 

The ANC routinely deplores poverty and inequality but tries to pretend this is part of the “apartheid inheritance”. This is the opposite of the truth: the governing elite is far richer than it was under apartheid and the numbers of the poor have multiplied. Ramaphosa, who started as a trade unionist, is the country’s second richest black man, worth half a billion dollars — the fruits of crony capitalism — a sum surpassed only by his brother-in-law, Patrice Motsepe.

 

The 11.4 million unemployed have, on average, two or three dependants, so we are talking of households comprising 30 million people — half the population. They are sitting in shacks, cold, hungry, without alcohol (banned under the Covid lockdown), insecure, with nothing to do and with no hope of a job: a picture of pure misery. These are the greatest victims of ANC misrule. Many are young and have never worked (youth unemployment is about 70 per cent) and have given up hope that they ever will. For many young women prostitution is their only income. One looter interviewed on TV admitted that he stole every day because otherwise his 15-year-old sister would “have to sleep with a grandad”.

 

The unemployed and poor have been largely ignored. The government is more concerned with the “haves” within its coalition — the capitalists of the BEE (Black Economic Empowerment) affirmative action programme, the public sector workers and the trade union bosses. The government’s offer of an extra R18 billion (£900 million) for already well-paid public service workers came only days before the unrest and was a blatant provocation to the unemployed.

 

Ramaphosa spoke of the “plight” of MPs, who are among the 1 per cent best-paid people in the country.

 

Surveys show that South Africa’s BEE legislation is regarded by foreign investors as the biggest single obstacle to investing in the country. Effectively it’s a tax on investment — if you set up a company you have, in effect, to give away a quarter of your equity to partners who have nothing to offer by way of skills or capital other than an ability to get ministers to take their calls. This is straightforward crony capitalism. This legislation pushes foreign investment away, at the cost of many jobs, simply to line the pockets of ANC-connected cronies.

 

A key example is the mining industry, which has been losing thousands of jobs under the weight of BEE constraints. The government is trying to force a Mining Charter, demanding ever-higher quotas, though the mining companies refuse to sign it. The result is that no new mines have been opened in a decade. Mining executives are adamant that even in the midst of a commodity price boom they can’t risk increasing their exposure to South Africa, even though it has the richest mineral deposits in the world. The government has only to adopt the same mining legislation as, say, Canada to produce tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of new jobs. But it won’t because it places the interests of a few BEE capitalists higher than those of the unemployed.

 

Similarly, government is attentive to the trade unions which represent those in work but all it has for the unemployed is crocodile tears. South Africa’s tight labour laws privilege those in work, giving the unemployed little opportunity to compete for jobs. Inept policies and the weight of corruption mean South Africa is in its seventh year of falling real per capita incomes. People are getting steadily poorer and Covid lockdowns have increased the misery, costing many jobs.

If those without jobs or hope are told they can take what they like from the shops without paying, it is not surprising that they respond enthusiastically and in such numbers. They grabbed food, drink, perhaps a new fridge or TV. Ramaphosa, appearing on TV, looked beaten, offering only platitudes and “appeals for calm”. This provoked derision and was ignored.

 

Criminals flourished amid the looting, organising massive heists of goods and used the mayhem as cover for other crimes. Zuma’s henchmen tried to make the country ungovernable by targeting key pieces of infrastructure — ports and reservoirs were attacked, as were more than 120 electricity sub-stations. Attacks on vehicles on the road leading to the Sapref refinery in Durban (which produces one third of all South Africa’s petrol) forced the refinery to close down, producing a fuel crisis. Shops, warehouses or factories, once looted, were set on fire. Such destruction has cost many jobs. There are many more hungry and desperate people and KwaZulu-Natal faces a humanitarian disaster. Half of all patients in hospitals there are already without medication.

 

The looting started on a Friday and Ramaphosa said and did nothing until the following Monday. Ministers were silent and invisible. The minister for police, Bheki Cele, who comes from Durban, did not visit the city for nearly a week.

The police, though armed, passively watched the looters and, in many cases, operated protection rackets and demanded “favours” from the public before they would lift a finger. Cele went on TV wearing a cashmere coat and a Louis Vuitton scarf costing about eight times the average weekly wage. No wonder looters, when interviewed, said: “Ministers have been looting for years, so why pick on us?”

 

Ramaphosa finally ordered 2,500 troops in to support the police. They too stood passively by. The president is terrified of the optics of a black government firing on black people: the shadow of the 2012 Marikana massacre, in which 34 striking miners were killed by the police, still looms. So the looting went on, day after day.

 

Under pressure from business, Ramaphosa has agreed to increase the troop presence to 25,000. The government is at last pursuing the 12 key instigators of sabotage but it has caught only one. With the economy and investor confidence being destroyed in front of its eyes, the government has opted to let the mayhem burn itself out. The highway between Durban and Johannesburg, the country’s main economic artery, has been closed for a week. The rail line is also cut, so the country’s biggest port, Durban, is severed from the rest of South Africa.

 

In this law and order vacuum vigilante militias have sprung up as communities seek to protect their suburbs and their shops. Often these vigilante groups depend on white ex-members of the security forces but they include members of all races.

 

Most of South Africa’s Indian population live in or around Durban and they still have strong memories of the 1949 riots in which Zulus killed hundreds of Indians. This time the Indians saw trouble coming when others didn’t and the Indian township of Phoenix (where Gandhi once lived) was armed to the teeth. When looters arrived to pillage their shops and homes the Indians resisted fiercely and 20 people were killed. But the little Indian settlements to the north of Durban were more vulnerable. Verulam was all but destroyed and the Indian community there, having lost all its shops, retreated to the Indian suburb of Everest Heights and forbade Africans to set foot there. Vigilantes with guns, knives and axes patrol the streets. Africans who attacked one home were hacked with axes, the pictures circulating on social media.

 

Food and fuel shortages are already acute in KwaZulu-Natal. No one is going to resupply malls that have been burnt or, indeed, any shop that is vulnerable to looting. The resulting hunger crisis could drive people to more desperate acts: the big worry is attacks on private homes. ATMs have been destroyed, pharmacies ransacked and drink shops pillaged so there will be shortages of medical and other supplies. The Covid vaccination programme has stopped and the frantic mixing of maskless looters is bound to produce a fresh spike. The rand has dropped sharply.

 

The ANC’s standard election slogan is “a better life for all” but what the riots point to is the colossal failure of ANC governance. It has emphatically not brought a better life for poor Africans and one hears on all sides unfavourable comparisons with the old apartheid government: nothing like this occurred on its watch, after all. On radio, TV and social media there is a torrent of angry comment, virtually all of it scornful of the government. Ramaphosa dare not form a government of national unity as so many demand, for the ANC is deeply divided. The Zuma faction would take any coalition as a sign that Ramaphosa was inviting the whites back into power.

 

There is a national demand for a strong man to restore order with a firm hand. But Ramaphosa is weak, talks in generalities and is very slow to act. In many African countries such a demonstration of government weakness would result in a coup but South Africa’s army has been cut to the bone and is probably not capable of that. So some sort of normality will doubtless resume, ministers will return to their venal ways and there will be a pretence that things are all right again.

 

But they won’t be. The poor and unemployed are a keg of dynamite waiting to go off. The outlook is for crises of hunger and shortages of every kind. The ANC is more divided than ever and the already weak economy has taken a massive blow. Real incomes will continue to fall.

 

This is what the ANC has achieved after 27 years in power. No one now believes that it will deliver a “better life for all”. Its ineptitude, cronyism and corruption and its refusal to avail itself of white skills and experience have fatally weakened its ability to govern and it is steering South Africa steadily towards the status of a failed state.

 
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