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Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-01-31

An African Union vote to elect a new head for the bloc ended in a deadlock Monday with Gabonese incumbent Jean Ping failing to secure a two-thirds majority against South Africa's Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

AFP - A vote by African leaders for the head of their bloc's executive ended in deadlock Monday amid a drive by southern Africa to wrest influence from the continent's French-speaking countries.

Intense campaigns had preceded the vote and dominated the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, where leaders gathered to discuss broadening trade within Africa and tackle conflict hot spots.

Gabon's Jean Ping, who has headed the African Union Commission since 2008 and was seeking a new term, was challenged by South Africa's Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a former foreign minister.

"We went for an election and none of the two candidates emerged as a winner," Zambian President Michael Sata said. "The next elections will be held in June."

The deputy AU commission chief, Erastus Mwencha from Kenya, will step in until fresh polls are held during the next summit in Malawi.

Analysts say the vote for the AU agenda-setting position has exposed political fault lines between English- and French-speaking Africa, as well as between different geographic regions.

"The result has shown up divides in the continent," said Jakkie Cilliers, executive director of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Pretoria, told AFP at the summit.

"South Africa worked hard to reduce Ping's support base."

AU sources said the election was tight, with Ping holding a slender lead in three rounds of voting in which neither candidate obtained the required two-thirds majority.

Ping, 69, led Dlamini-Zuma, the ex-wife of South Africa's president, in the first three rounds 28 votes to 25, 27 to 26 and 29 to 24, AU sources said.

Dlamini-Zuma was then forced under AU rules to pull out, leaving Ping to face a fourth round on his own, but he still failed to muster the necessary votes in his support.

Ahead of the vote, sources said Ping had been confident of reelection, counting on support from French-speaking West and Central Africa countries.

However, he has appeared to have fallen foul of criticism that he performed poorly in recent crises on the continent, after a year that saw a post-election crisis in Ivory Coast as well as the Arab Spring revolutions.

The AU was holding its first summit since the death of Libya's Moamer Kadhafi, who was seen as the continental grouping's founding father, was a key financier but had allies mainly in French-speaking West Africa.

Dlamini-Zuma, 63, had launched a tough campaign and had the backing of the 15-member Southern African Development Community, and Pretoria lobbied hard across Africa to drum up support.

South African delegates broke into song and dance after the stalemate vote conducted at the two-day summit in the new ultra-modern AU headquarters built by the Chinese and unveiled at the weekend.

But Cilliers warned that while Dlamini-Zuma supporters were celebrating, her failure to win suggested many might oppose South Africa for the post too.

"Importantly, this result may mean that Africans don't want a key country such as South Africa in the position of chair," he said.

In a pre-vote pledge, Dlamini-Zuma said that if elected she would "spare no effort in building on the work of those African women and men who want to see an African Union that is a formidable force striving for a united, free, truly independent, better Africa."

No woman has held the post to which Ping was elected in 2008.

"It's a good sign for gender politics in AU that a woman came so close for the vote to such a position," said Cheryl Hendricks from the ISS thinktank.

Mwencha, AU Commission deputy chairman for the past four years, is a Kenyan economist who has spent most of his long career promoting the cause of regional integration and trade.

On Sunday, the 54-member African Union elected Benin's President Thomas Boni Yayi as its new chairman, a rotating post held for one year.

On the sidelines of the summit, protracted disputes between South Sudan and Sudan brought a warning from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Sunday that they threatened regional security.

Ban said both Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and his South Sudan counterpart Salva Kiir lacked the "political will" to tackle border and oil disputes since the South seceded last July.

"The situation in Sudan and South Sudan has reached a critical point, it has become a major threat to peace and security across the region," Ban told reporters.

Date created : 2012-01-30


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