This week, Muhammadu Buhari defeated former President Goodluck Jonathan to become President of Nigeria. Many hope the election signals increasing democracy in a country that has never before removed a sitting leader at the ballot box. Back in 2011, 800 people died during protests alleging foul play at the polls when Jonathan defeated Buhari. But now Goodluck Jonathan and his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have publicly conceded defeat after 16 years in office. “President Jonathan was a worthy opponent and I extend the hand of fellowship to him,” Buhari told reporters and supporters on Wednesday. “We have proven to the world that we are people who have embraced democracy. We have put one-party state behind us.”
Here’s a short primer on President-elect Buhari and what these elections mean for Nigeria.
Muhammadu Buhari first ruled Nigeria from January 1984 until August 1985 after a military coup. His legacy is mixed. His previous government took a hard line against corruption and Buhari maintains a rare reputation for honesty among Nigerian politicians. On the other hand, his attempts to re-balance public finances resulted in job losses and economic disruptions. He also restricted freedom of the press while in power, jailing of two journalists. Buhari has defended his military coup in 1983. “If you choose correct leadership, there won’t be any need for the military regime,” he has said. “The military came in when it was absolutely necessary and the elected people had failed the country.” Buhari himself was removed from power in a later military coup.
Buhari was defeated in the last three elections. However, in this round of elections, he was supported as a candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC). APC is composed of many prominent defectors from Jonathan’s PDP, which has been at the forefront of the political scene since the end of military rule in Nigeria in 1999. Buhari campaigned as a born-again democrat focused on cleaning up corrupt politics to allay fears that his ruling would mark a return to a strict military regime.
As a Sunni Muslim from northern Nigeria, Buhari’s religion has made it difficult to win support among Christians in southern Nigeria. After surviving an attack from Boko Haram on his convoy in July 2014, Buhari vowed to end the insurgency within months if elected, blaming President Jonathan for failing to remove the group. Many Nigerians hope he can use his military background to counter Boko Haram insurgency in the north, where he is popular among the poor.
Elections in Nigeria have been typically marked by violence and corruption. In the time since campaigning began in mid-November, the ruling and opposition parties have reported violent attacks that have resulted in the deaths of many supporters. Nigeria’s elections were originally set for mid-February but were postponed for six weeks due to potential security concerns as military resources were devoted to fighting against Boko Haram. Fourteen candidates participated in the election, but Jonathan and Buhari were the only two seen to have a realistic chance of winning. While Jonathan still has support in his home region in the majority-Christian south, his government has faced backlash for its failure to combat Boko Haram. Insecurity, elite corruption among high-profile politicians and business leaders, and the state of the economy all ranked high among voter concerns.
This time, the Independent National Electoral Commission (Inec) was charged with enforcing election procedures from vote-counting – the candidate with the most first-round votes and at least 25% of the votes in two-thirds of Nigeria’s states wins – to instating new biometric cards to stop voter fraud. But Inec faced a special challenge in the north, where roughly one million people displaced by the conflict with Boko Haram had to cast their votes at specially provided facilities. International and local observers including the European Union would not deploy observers in the north-east due to security concerns. Inec’s job is not quite finished. On April 11, Nigerians will vote again to elect new governors and state assemblies for 29 of 36 states, including large and economically powerful Lagos, Kano, and Rivers.
Nigeria has the largest economy and population of any country in Africa. Last year, it overtook South Africa to claim the region’s largest economy and is one of Africa’s largest oil producers and a main supplier of crude oil to the United States. Citizens though complain that the wealth of the country from oil exports do not reach the average citizen, as roughly 70% of Nigerians live below the poverty line.
This week on War News Radio, at least 147 are dead and 79 injured after Islamist militants attacked a university in northeast Kenya, Iraq recaptured the city of Tikrit from ISIS, the Palestinian Authority officially became a member of the International Criminal Court, and more.
This week on War News Radio, a coalition led by Saudi Arabia started airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen, a US announcement that it will join airstrikes against ISIS in the Iraqi city of Tikrit prompted over a third of Iraqi fighters to withdraw or refuse to cooperate in the battle, Boko Haram kidnapped 500 women and children from the Northern Nigerian town of Damasuk, and more.
This week, War News Radio is also presenting content from two of our partner radio stations, Yatsani FM in Loo-saka, Zambia and Mazabuka Community Radio in Mazabuka, Zambia. We bring to you content from reporter Maybin Katungulu on the Beating Famine Conference and reporter Lorraine Hamusonde on drought conditions in her district of Zambia.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will likely serve a fourth term after this week’s general election, but many of the details of the new government are still up in the air. Israel’s parliamentary government has a proportional electoral system, where each political party receives seats in the 120-seat central parliament, the Knesset, equivalent to the percentage of votes they win in the national elections. But with 26 parties vying for votes, no single party has ever won at least 61 seats, or enough to form a majority government on its own. Instead, parties form coalitions with one another to gain at least 61 seats, a negotiation process that can take weeks. After the initial election, the largely-ceremonial Israeli President, currently Reuven Rivlin, asks the heads of all parties that won seats who they will coalition with, and then announces who is in charge of forming the governing coalition.
This week’s election process began in December of last year, when Netanyahu, who still had more than two years left in his third term, fired two of his cabinet ministers and called for early elections. At the time, Netanyahu’s governing coalition consisted of five parties: his own right-wing Likud Party and four others, mostly conservatives. Other members of the governing coalition had been increasingly critical of Netanyahu, particularly Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, the ministers Netanyahu fired. The coalition’s instability appears to have been a major factor in Netanyahu’s call for early elections.
Despite Netanyahu’s confidence in re-election, the center-left Zionist Union party gained rapid support in the polls. The Zionist Union, a pact between the Labor Party, led by Isaac Herzog, and a liberal movement known as Hatnuah, formed by former Justice Minister Livni, had made domestic policy a focus of its campaign, emphasizing rising income inequality, housing prices, and the cost of living. It has also promised to repair relations with the international community, particularly the Palestinians and the United States. Likud, in contrast, has campaigned primarily on foreign policy issues, portraying the Zionist Union as unable or unwilling to challenge Islamic militants and Iran’s nuclear program. The most recent pre-election polls showed the Zionist Union on track to win at least a four- or five-seat lead over Likud, which was projected to win a mere 20 seats.
While President Rivlin has pushed for a unity government between Likud and the Zionist Union party, Netanyahu rejected the possibility of a coalition government with Herzog, announcing instead that he would negotiate with far-right parties, such as the Jewish Home party, which has advocated for annexation of large sections of the West Bank and stridently opposed the creation of a Palestinian state. As part of his last-minute campaigning, Netanyahu denounced the concept of a Palestinian state and promised it would never exist, reversing a 2009 statement in favor of a two-state solution. He also warned right-wing voters that the Zionist Union and international left-wing organizations were busing Arab-Israeli voters to the polls, a tactic his opponents condemned as “barefaced” racism. After the votes were counted, Netanyahu casually denied these allegations; when asked if his tactics outed him as a racist, he responded simply, “I’m not.”
The subject of Arab-Israeli voters has been central to this week’s elections, as a new party, the Arab Israeli Joint List, shattered all expectations to emerge as the third largest party in the Knesset. In order to limit the representation of extremist parties, Israel has required parties to receive at least 2% of the vote in order to gain at least one seat in the Knesset. The head of Israel’s ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, Avigdor Lieberman, who has advocated for the creation of loyalty oaths for Arab Israelis, introduced legislation to raise this threshold to 3.25%. This threatened the survival of four small Arab parties, which joined together to form the Joint List. Projected to receive 13 seats in the Knesset, it in fact received 14, making it the third most powerful party after Likud and the Zionist Union. Despite this, its leader, Ayman Odeh, has pledged not to form any governing coalition. However, the Joint List has indicated support for Herzog over Netanyahu.
As the dust settles, Netanyahu and his Likud Party appear to have won a decisive victory. Despite the pre-election polling data, Likud has received 30 seats in the Knesset, compared to only 24 for the Zionist Union. Netanyahu has already approached the Jewish Home Party, which earned 8 seats, as well as Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party, which barely cleared its own 3.25% threshold, earning a mere 6 seats. He has also approached several ultra-orthodox parties and a new centrist party, Kulanu, which received ten seats. Any governing coalition will also have to appoint ministers to various government agencies; this can complicate negotiations, as parties often demand key governmental positions in return for joining a coalition. For example, many observers have speculated that the leader of Kulanu, Moshe Kahlon, will join the coalition if Netanyahu makes him Finance Minister.
Netanyahu’s troubles, however, are far from over. Several right-wing parties have shown dissatisfaction with Netanyahu as a candidate, and while many governing coalitions rotate the prime ministerial position, Netanyahu has been unwilling to share power. It is possible, though unlikely, that his parties will form a government without him. Furthermore, Netanyahu’s new coalition will probably have even more parties than the last one, which was already highly unstable. If he is able to cobble together another governing coalition, however, it will be considerably more religious and right-wing than the previous one, a function both of Netanyahu’s personal shift to embrace far-right positions on settlements, the two-state solution, and Arab-Israeli rights, and of the positions of the Jewish Home and Yisrael Beiteinu parties. Tensions with the international community will almost certainly continue to rise, with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat pledging to respond to a new Netanyahu-led government by accelerating efforts to accuse Israel of war crimes at the Hague. It may also impact President Obama’s negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, talks which Netanyahu has strongly opposed. Lastly, any potential governing majority will likely place Israel in conflict with the European Union, which has been weighing trade sanctions on Israel over its settlement policy in the West Bank.
This week on War News Radio, Nigeria says it ousted Boko Haram from Bama, the second biggest city in Borno state, the Islamic State attacked oil fields, hospitals, and other major infrastructures in Libyan cities, at least 23 people were killed at the Bardo museum in Tunis after an attack by two gunmen, and more. We also present the first content from our partner radio station, Yatsani FM in Lusaka, Zambia from reporter Maybin Katungulu on climate change funds from Oxfam not reaching local communities in Zambia.
Last week on War News Radio, Iraq launched the largest military operation against ISIS since last June, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a speech before Congress, Boko Haram released a video earlier this week that claims to show the public execution of two hostages, and more.