South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) party is coming under intense criticism after suggesting that next year's general elections should be held either early in March or later in May. But the new Congress of the People party (COPE), which was formed after breaking away from the ANC, says the move is intended to outmaneuver the opposition. COPE says it intends to officially launch as a political party on December 16. Since South Africa's first free vote after apartheid in 1994, general elections have always been held in April. COPE says the new dates would not allow ample time for the party to adequately prepare for the election. Rok Ajulu is a professor of international relations in South Africa. He tells reporter Peter Clottey that he does not see any sinister move on the part of the ruling ANC.
"The election date has already provoked yet another round of ANC bashing by the press here. The suggestion has been made in many quarters that the ANC'S call for early election is to outmaneuver the splinter group led by (Mosiuoa Terror) Lekota or COPE as they call themselves," Ajulu noted.
He described the criticism leveled against the ruling ANC as unfortunate.
"I think this is just a bit of politicking and the tradition of prejudices against the ANC. The election was supposed to be in April or around that time, and as you know any government can call elections either earlier or a little bit later, and that is the normal practice all over democracies. So, my understanding is that the ANC has suggested the date of 25th of March, which is five days from April and from the electoral commission, those two days are holidays so it sounded very convenient. But I cannot understand what a 25 Mach election instead of April five elections could be deliberately construed as outmaneuvering your opponent. I think that is just politicking," he said.
Ajulu said the date being proposed by the ANC would not hamper any of the parties that would participate in next year's general election.
"The question can also be out when in April should the election be held? Let's assume that the election would be held on the second or third or fourth of April that would only be a difference of nice days. If you are going to an election in nine days and you are not ready, then you must as well not take part in the election. So, I don't think there is any credence to those stories," Ajulu said.
He said the proposed election date is not an election, as some opposition parties had speculated.
"The contention that the ANC calling for an early election would not be advantageous to the other parties is false. In fact it is not an election because if the ANC were calling for an election in December then we would probably understand what their accusations are that the ANC did that to outmaneuver the opponent. But if the election is supposed to be in April and what is being suggested by the ANC is a few days on a holiday, I don't think any advantages that would be gained from having an election eight days earlier," he said.
Ajulu described the accusation from the ANC splinter group as baseless.
"Those are senseless and meaningless and mere politicking. If they knew very well that the election would be held in April if I were them I would have had my launch last month. If they know the election was in April, why did they want to wait till December 16th to make their launch? And as I keep saying, what is the deference between the 25th March and second April? What is the difference? The difference in only five or six days, and how can that be seriously construed as a move to outmaneuver them (opposition)," Ajulu said.
Meanwhile, the ANC is expected to launch its election manifesto next month as the party gears up for polls that could elect party leader Jacob Zuma as the country's next president.