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Zimbabwe: Poll prospects bring anxiety

By Frank Chikowore in Harare
Posted on Thursday, 10 February 2011 15:23

ZANU-PF’s calls for an election are stoking fears of another violent vote while the constitutional referendum is delayed

Two key issues are haunting Zimbabwe this year: whether there will be national elections, and

whether it will see a repeat of the bloody violence meted out by state security and local militias in the last polls in 2008.

Different politicians and officials give different answers. President Robert Mugabe told delegates at Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front’s (ZANU-PF) congress last December: “We are going for elections mid-next year after the national referendum on the new constitution.” The stakes are higher than ever, with ZANU-PF associates accused of benefiting from production at Marange diamond fields, reputed to be one of the richest in the world.

For Mugabe and his party, national elections would be the best way to bring to an end their coalition government with the two wings of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) – formed as part of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) brokered by South Africa. The deal set out a checklist of political, economic and security reforms that the power-sharing government should un- dertake jointly before fresh elections.

“We cannot extend the GPA because this creature is unbearable,” Mugabe told the congress, “and therefore we are going for elections in mid-2011 so we do away with this inclusive government.”

The two MDC factions disagree. Leader Morgan Tsvangirai says Mugabe does not have the right to call for elections without consulting the other partners in the government. Tsvangirai and the newly elected leader of the other MDC faction, Welshman Ncube, say elections should not be held before a referendum on a new constitution. Negotiations on constitutional reform are well behind schedule.

Douglas Mwonzora, co-chairman of the parliamentary committee managing the constitutional revision, told The Africa Report that: “We are going to be drafting the constitution that we will take to the second All Stakeholders’ Conference, and we hope that the national referendum would be held by 30 September.” He added that the government’s reluctance to release funds for the consultations and conferences is slowing the process.

Ncube argues that regardless, elections should not be held this year. “Elections can only be held in 2013 because legally, that is when they should be.”

Like many other MDC activists, Ncube says he is determined to avoid a repeat of the violence of 2008: “We are going to make sure that all the provisions of the GPA have been implemented before elections are held.” The current electoral environment – the lack of clear rules and independent monitoring – could produce another violent and disputed outcome, Ncube says.

For many, especially in rural areas, a repeat of that violence is the great fear. Human rights lobbyists and MDC activists say that ZANU-PF’s security committee, headed by defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, has sent soldiers and spies from the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) to spearhead its election campaign.

The independent media has reported several attacks on MDC supporters in

Robert Mugabe (centre right) called coalition deal ‘an unbearable creature’

recent weeks; one such attack was on an MDC vehicle in Harare’s politically volatile high-density suburb Mbare. The Harare-based group Restoration of Human Rights reported that MDC activist Julius Mutavira Gono of Chiredzi South constituency, was beaten and left for dead by suspected CIO agents.

War veterans’ leader Jabulani Sibanda, who has been campaigning in Masvingo Province, was accused by local villagers of threatening them if they didn’t vote for ZANU-PF. Sibanda dismissed the allegations as fabrications.

Finance minister Tendai Biti has allocated the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) some $30m to hold a constitutional referendum and set aside a further $20m for a range of other tasks including a voters’ roll overhaul and the delimitation of constituencies.

But that is not enough for national elections, according to the commission’s chairman, Simpson Mutambanengwe: “We cannot successfully conduct an election without sufficient resources and we urge the government to provide more for us to be effective,” says Mutambanengwe.

This article was first published in the February 2011 edition of The Africa Report