By BARRY BEARAK
If all goes as expected, South Africa will soon be led by a president who is also the defendant in a criminal case, a man accused of fraud and racketeering, legally empowered to select officials who could either drop his prosecution or push it forward.
Jacob Zuma, president of the African National Congress, which is expected to end up in the majority after parliamentary elections on April 22, speaks of his coming trial as a civics lesson.
However one feels about the presumptive next president, Jacob Zuma — and most of the feelings here align toward extremes — his ascension to the top job will test the rule of law in a country often regarded as the democratic anchor of the continent.
Virtually every South African has long wondered what will happen if and when a Zuma prosecution and a Zuma presidency meet at the crossroads. Ticklish days lie ahead.
“It’s hard to see a solution that doesn’t somehow weaken our institutions, not only in the eyes of the country but in the eyes of the world,” said Adam Habib, a political analyst.
Parliamentary elections are scheduled for April 22, and the governing African National Congress will almost surely end up in the majority. Parliament would then elect Mr. Zuma, the A.N.C.’s leader and a man accused of accepting 783 payments from a convicted briber, as president.
Many here are expecting some sort of expedient political stratagem to keep the nation’s leader from the demeaning spectacle of a trial. Will a newly selected chief of prosecution abruptly decide the case has no merit? Will an A.N.C.-dominated Parliament pass a measure that outlaws the trial of a sitting president — sometimes referred to as the “Berlusconi solution,” named for the immunity granted Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy?