S. African elections chief resigns, clouding new vote

He points to `differences' over commission's role

January 27, 1999|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- The head of the Independent Election Commission resigned yesterday, raising new doubts about the smooth execution of a national ballot already threatened by the specter of violence.

Johann Kriegler, a justice with the Constitutional Court, cited "differences" with President Nelson Mandela's government over the role of the commission for his decision to step aside just months before this country conducts its second free elections since the apartheid era.

"I thought I was part of the problem rather than part of the solution," he said.

Kriegler, who ran this country's first democratic elections in 1994, has previously warned that the elections could not be run on a$100 million budget and has criticized the law that allows only people with new, bar-coded identity books to vote.

Kriegler's sudden resignation came 72 hours after the assassination of a political warlord in the volatile province of KwaZulu/Natal.

Siphiso Nkabinde's death appeared to be directly related to a power struggle for control of the Richmond area. A security crackdown has quelled violence there -- at least for the moment.

Kriegler noted that shortcomings in the 1994 elections were largely overcome by the euphoria surrounding liberation. But the success of this year's election would depend on applying expensive technology to the election process. Even with enthusiastic volunteers, the proposed funding would not be adequate, he said.

Officials of the election commission and the budget office are discussing funding of the elections in the wake of Kriegler's warning.

Kriegler told a news conference that his resignation was "the culmination of events and should not be attributed to any particular reason." For years, he said, there had been differences over the relationship between the election commission and the government.

His departure, he told viewers last night, would not derail the elections.

President Mandela told reporters that opposition leaders had agreed not to make Kriegler's resignation a party political issue.

Pub Date: 1/27/99

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