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South Africa’s election authorities this week disqualified former President Jacob Zuma from running in the upcoming May election, intensifying political tensions ahead of what analysts predict could be the nation’s most competitive electoral contest since the end of apartheid 30 years ago, Al Jazeera reported.

Zuma, 81, a key figure in South Africa’s history, served as president from 2009 to 2018, rising from his anti-apartheid activism alongside Nelson Mandela. However, his presidency was marred by allegations of corruption, leading to his forced resignation in 2018 under pressure from the African National Congress (ANC).

On Thursday, the Electoral Commission barred Zuma from running because of a 2021 conviction in which a court sentenced him to 15 months in prison for defying an order to appear before a judicial commission investigating corruption allegations during his term in office.

He was granted medical parole after two months and allowed to serve the rest of the sentence under house arrest. However, South Africa’s constitution blocks people convicted and sentenced to more than 12 months in prison from holding office, according to the Associated Press.

The ban comes as South Africa prepares to hold general elections on May 29, a race that comes as the ANC – which has ruled South Africa since 1994 – is grappling with diminishing support, accusations of corruption and economic stagnation.

Despite his fall from grace within the ANC, Zuma’s influence remains strong in South Africa’s most populous provinces, including his home province of KwaZulu-Natal.

Last year, he threw his support behind the newly-formed uMkhonto weSizwe Party (MK) – named after the ANC’s former military wing that was co-founded by Mandela.

Analysts said the MK Party’s emergence as a contender challenging the ANC’s decades-long dominance has injected new dynamics into South African politics.

Last week, electoral authorities rejected an ANC petition to prevent the MK Party’s participation in the May vote.

Meanwhile, polls showed that a majority of voters in KwaZulu-Natal would vote for the MK Party. Other surveys predicted that the MK Party could gain 11 percent of the national vote while the ANC would see its share fall below 50 percent for the first time in 30 years.

While Zuma’s exclusion could dampen the MK Party’s momentum, it also risks galvanizing the former leader’s loyal supporters, portraying him as a victim of political persecution.

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