South African President Thabo Mbeki has ruled out changing the constitution to allow him to stay in office when his term ends in 2009. During an interview with the South African Broadcasting Corporation, Mr. Mbeki said by 2009 he will have held a senior government position for 15 years and that it will be time "to step aside." He said he will not use his African National Congress party’s huge majority in parliament to alter the current two-term limit. Mr. Mbeki is South Africa's second elected president after Nelson Mandela, winning re-election by a huge majority in 2004.
Professor Adam Habib is the director of the Democracy and Governance Research Program at South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council. He told English to Africa reporter Ashenafi Abedje President Mbeki’s stand on the third-term issue is consistent with his previous statements. Professor Habib attributes Mr. Mbeki’s decision not to pursue a third-term to two factors. He says the first relates to the “significant separation of powers in South African society that doesn’t lend itself to a single individual dominating society – as is the case in many African countries.” The other, he says, pertains to Mr. Mbeki’s personality. Professor Habib describes the South African leader as “a grand old nationalist who wants to prove to the world it’s possible to be both African and modern. That a third term run by him will give ammunition to those in the right in both Europe and the United States who have a caricatured version of African leaders, all wanting to stand for a third term.”
The South African analyst commented on speculation about a possible third-term bid by Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo. He says if such a scenario came to pass, “democracy will be weakened, not so much by the third term bid itself, but by the act of changing the constitution” to achieve that end. Professor Habib says President Mbeki’s disavowal of a third term sends a strong signal to the continent’s other leaders. It says to those contemplating third term bids that “it’s not politically kosher to run for a third term, or to change constitutions toward that end.” He says, “Such a message will be good for democratic consolidation on the continent as a whole.”