Australian Outlook

In this section

2024 Election Watch: South Africa, Lithuania, India, and Iran

13 May 2024
By Colin Chapman FAIIA
President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers keynote address during National Conference on State of Human Rights marking 30th anniversary. Source: Office of the President of South Africa Flickr /

South Africa is moving away from the party that brought Nelson Mandela to power, and the nation beyond Apartheid. For many, however, the future looks bleak, even with a potential change in leader.

May stands out as a very busy month in the election calendar but there is one poll that will command the most attention. Unfortunately, we have to wait until the end of the month before knowing the answer to a crucial question – will the African National Congress (ANC), which was responsible for overturning the evil of apartheid in South Africa, be able to continue to command a majority in Africa’s largest economy?

South Africans goes to the ballot box on May 29 with current polls showing that, for the first time since the advent of democracy in 1994, the ANC’s share of the vote will fall below 50 percent and possibly as low as 37 percent. If the continent’s most important political party no longer has an outright majority to rule South Africa, it may be forced into coalition with one or more of the plethora of new parties to have emerged in the face of voter disenchantment with the government. South Africans, especially those “born-free” since the end of apartheid, are angry at high unemployment, rampant crime and corruption, and a stagnant economy. “If the ANC dips below 45 percent, we’re in trouble,” said Ziyanda Stuurman, senior analyst for Africa at the Eurasia Group think-tank. “Likely they will then depend on a multitude of smaller parties and eventually the wheels will come off in that kind of coalition,” he said.

One of the main disrupters in the election is likely to be former president Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party, formed in September 2023 following his suspension from the ANC for launching “vitriolic attacks” against the leadership. Many pundits had assumed that the 82-year-old Zuma would disappear into the political wilderness but according to a poll last month by the Johannesburg-based Social Research Foundation, the MK party could come third in the ballot with 13 percent. Zuma’s candidacy is being challenged over a criminal conviction but he has proved adept at shaking off corruption allegations in the past and there are already signs that support for MK is exposing rifts within Zuma’s former party.

Another newcomer to the political fray is the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) led by ANC breakaway youth leader Julius Malema. Like the MK party, EFF offers a radical view of how South Africa should be governed, promoting “radical economic transformation” to challenge “white monopoly capital” through land expropriation and imposing more control over the economy, including even the central bank. It has been anticipated that together MK and EFF could amass 20 percent of the vote.

On the fringe of the new parties is the Patriotic Alliance, appealing mainly to the “coloured” communities who feel marginalised by the Black majority. It is led by a former bank robber, Gayton McKenzie, who promises to halve youth unemployment by “mass deporting” illegal immigrants. More a part of the political establishment is the Democratic Alliance (DA), seen by many in the country as a business-friendly party supported by white South Africans. Its leader John Steenhuisen has said he would join in coalition with the ANC if it provided an alternative to a “doomsday” coalition between the ANC and the more radical parties, MK and EFF.

As South Africans prepare to cast their votes they are in despondent mood. Just 29 percent say their life will get better over the next five years. One in four people say political leaders cannot be trusted. South Africa’s 30 years of democracy saw widespread improvements in people’s lives for the first 15 years but the second 15 have seen a rise in unemployment from 20 percent in 2008 to 32 percent today, and lower gross domestic product per person. Power cuts and water shortages are at record levels. Despite the frustration and despondency, and the ANC’s many failings, the ruling party is expected by some political analysts to get twice as many votes as the next biggest party. “There’s a deep hinterland of sentiment which still regards Mandela as precious and the ANC as having, to an extent, changed the world,” says Jonny Steinberg, author of Winnie & Nelson, a book that re-examines the dual legacy of Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, a fierce anti-apartheid activist.

Meanwhile, in India, voting in the world’s greatest democracy continues, the polls having opened in late April and the final phase and results are expected in early June.  Prime Minister Narendra Modi remains the favourite for re-election.

In Lithuania, there are unlikely to be any surprises in presidential election on May 12, with the incumbent Gitanas Nauseda expected to take more than 40 percent of the vote. One of the Baltic states, Lithuania has given strong support to Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression and has increased defence spending to 2.5 percent of GDP in anticipation of further threats from Russia. An opinion poll carried out by the Vilmorus Institute noted that Nauseda, the country’s most popular political figure, would command 40.2 percent of the vote, and is well ahead of the other eight candidates, who include Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte (Union of Fatherland-Christian Democrats, TS-LKD) who polls 8.9 percent. The Social Democratic Party (LSDP) in February announced its decision not to nominate a candidate, giving its support to the incumbent head of state.

There was a time when elections in Iran gained great attention in the West but the results of the election in early March, the second round of which took place in early May, confirm that the national assembly is firmly in the grip of hardliners. The authorities had hoped for a high turnout to support the government, but in Tehran just 24 percent of eligible voters turned out. Many voters refused to cast their ballots after leading pro-reform and moderate figures were purged in a pre-election vetting process.

Finally, in North Macedonia, there has been a potential setback to the country’s long-delayed EU membership bid, with the nationalist VMRO party looking set to return to power in the small western Balkan state, a part of former Yugoslavia. In last month’s presidential election, the incumbent Social Democrats polled around a quarter of the vote, compared with VMRO’s 40 percent. If parliamentary elections confirm the same trend, the powerful prime ministerial role will go to VMRO leader Hristijan Mickovski. However, in the absence of an outright majority in the 120-strong parliament, the kingmaker will be one of the small ethnic Albanian parties.

Elections are also taking place in Chad and Madagascar in Africa, Dominican Republic and Panama in Central America, and the Pacific Island of Vanuatu.

Colin Chapman FAIIA is a writer, broadcaster, public speaker, who specialises in geopolitics, international economics, and global media issues. He is a former president of AIIA NSW and was appointed a fellow of the AIIA in 2017. Colin is editor at large with Australian Outlook.

This article is published under a Creative Commons License and may be republished with attribution.