Addis Ababa: A tough diplomatic battle has taken shape at the African Union (AU) ahead of the Presidential session to elect the Chairperson of the Commission, diplomats said on Wednesday. The AU Commission Chairperson Jean Ping is facing South Africa’s Interior Minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who is vying on a platform of change to the continental body, which her country blames for failing to prevent conflicts.
Ping’s supporters say their candidate is almost certain of an absolute majority when the elections come during the 18th session of the AU Summit on 29 January, but Dlamini-Zuma’s backing from the Southern African bloc is not being ruled out.
South Africa has proposed to delay the elections of the Chairperson and the Deputy Chairperson during the AU’s ministerial meeting on 26 January, but a counter proposal to delay the election of eight other commissioners has also been tabled.
“They (South Africa) have not formally proposed to delay the elections, but they are scheming to have it postponed because they sense their candidate is weak,” a diplomat whose country has an interest in the top posts, told PANA on Tuesday.
South Africa’s proposal to elect Commissioners seeks to have two Commissioners from Central Africa elected and using the numbers to disqualify their opponent.
“Central Africa is more divided because all the countries have presented a candidate for the various positions available. The region has six candidates mostly eying the hotly contested post of Political Affairs Commissioner, currently held by a Gambian. Equatorial Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Gabon have sponsored candidates against each other. Their success might lead to Ping’s unsuitability because the election rules decree no region would remain dominant.
South Africa is seeking the postponement of the elections on the grounds that the whole structure on how the elections are conducted is not favourable for their candidate and that elections must be postponed until the process is restructured.
“They are not seeking to address the substance of the elections itself, they are seeking a vantage position to win, that is why a counter proposal to elect the Chairperson and the Deputy and postpone the Commissioners election has been proposed,” said an analyst conversant with the ongoing high-level talks in Addis Ababa.
An observer accredited to the AU, said he considered South Africa might score some diplomatic victory on its proposal to delay the elections, but would lose in the end. “I am afraid they might get the postponement. But they should not talk about the election rules because they have been violated before and they might be violated again. Their candidature has been getting weaker,” the observer said.
A Cameroonian diplomat said he was certain Ping would score an absolute victory during the elections. “I am very sure of Ping’s re-election. It is almost a guarantee,” the diplomat told PANA.
Several candidates seeking top posts have expressed fears that although they were picked to vie for the respective posts, the political jockeying was likely to cloud judgement and merit would be lost in favour of political expediency. Ghana’s candidate for the post of Political affairs Commissioner has withdrawn in favour of Aisha Laraba Abdullahi, Nigeria’s ambassador to the Republic of Guinea.
Sources said the Nigerian was likely to sail through in a vote trade off between the Central Africans and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).