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South Africa Opposition Party Claims Partisans Intimidation Ahead of Election

South Africa's opposition Congress of the People (COPE) is demanding protection from the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) ahead of next month's general election after claiming its partisans are being intimidated, saying next month's elections could be marred. COPE said it was seeking assurance from the Independent Electoral Commission that the upcoming April 22 local and parliamentary elections would be transparent, free and fair. But the ruling African National Congress (ANC) dismissed the opposition claims saying COPE is psychologically preparing itself for a poor showing in the general election. Somadoda Fikeni is a political analyst. He tells reporter Peter Clottey that this year's election would be fiercely contested by all parties.

"Yes, this is one of the most intensely contested elections since 1994 when South Africa made its transition to democracy and therefore we have seen a heightened level of intimidation sometimes this becoming violent. And in the region of Kwazulu Natal we have even seen some political assassinations. Of course this is not rising to the levels of pre-1994, but it is still a reason for concern," Fikeni said.

He said tensions between the ruling ANC and the opposition COPE have sharply risen ahead of the election.

"In the case of the COPE and the ANC, you will remember that COPE is a breakaway group of the ANC. So, there is such an intense sense of betrayal and counter betrayal hence COPE in areas which are predominantly ANC hasn't done well in terms of campaigning," he said.

Fikeni said COPE's demand for the electoral commission's assurance is perhaps misplaced.

"This matter is mainly a security matter, but while it is quite clear that a certain party is instigating this, all parties do sign a code of conduct as a pledge to say that they wouldn't do certain things. So the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) could punish them by imposing a penalty in the form of payment. That in itself is one of the limited options that the Independent Electoral Commission has, but beyond that it's a matter for the police and the security forces, securing the meetings," said Fikeni.

He said the opposition COPE could significantly challenge the ruling ANC provided COPE makes the necessary effort to achieve that aim.

"If they put their infrastructure and their message across as well as the leadership team, surely in the local government elections that are coming in 2011 they will do well," he said.

Fikeni said it is unlikely that COPE party will attain the position of main opposition party in the April 22 general election.

"In this election, they will struggle to win that spot of being the main opposition party because the well-organized, well-financed, well-resourced Democratic Alliance, which is the opposition party currently has put up a spirited fight. A well-organized campaign for this particular election and besides it has a white constituency, which still has no other option or home and therefore put in their faith in the Democratic Alliance," Fikeni pointed out.