Zimbabwe: A marriage of convenience under strain
After a successful honeymoon, two of the parties in the coalition
seem determined to hold fresh elections next year to settle their
growing roster of disputes.
Even after 18 months of coalition government, journalists cannot resist asking ministers about the dynamics between President Robert ?Mugabe and his longstanding challenger, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. Confronted with such questions on her European tour in July, Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe, a founding member of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), manages a knowing smile and then comes up with the party line. “They are politicians – it’s a marriage of convenience and we have a policy agenda to work through,” she tells The Africa Report.
Khupe’s determination to close ranks on behalf of the power-sharing government, despite a long list of policy differences between the MDC and Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), reflects the central dilemma of how to manage this transitional period. Donald Steinberg, deputy president of the International Crisis Group, says it is a mistake to minimise the achievements of the coalition: “The unity government is functioning after a fashion and civil servants are back at work, being paid a small stipend. The Zimbabwe dollar has been shelved in favour of stable foreign currencies and goods have returned to shops. Human- rights activists report a dramatic decline in abuses. An ambitious yet pragmatic reconstruction programme was generally well-received.” ?
There is still a formidable list of business in front of the coalition, including many issues on which the MDC and ZANU-PF are at odds, such as the appointment of governors, the formation of a new national security agency and the reform of security laws.
The timing of polls
Although the three parties claim the coalition is a qualified success, at least two of them are racing towards fresh elections next year. Tsvangirai’s MDC faction, buoyed by favourable opinion-poll ratings and worried about this year’s economic deterioration (see box), is the keenest on early polls.
South Africa, which is the guarantor of the power-sharing agreement, expects another form of power sharing after the next elections because it does not think ZANU-PF will let go of the military or that the MDC will have the authority to retire the hostile high command. Sceptical of MDC-ZANU power sharing from the beginning, officials from Britain and the United States back an early election.
ZANU-PF, which has held power since 1980, exudes confidence about an electoral victory. With former spin doctor Jonathan Moyo back in the fold, the party is preparing a bruising ?campaign. For the MDC – both the faction led by Tsvangirai and the Arthur Mutambara faction – the priority is to organise credible and peaceful elections that produce a decisive verdict. “We are not going back to an inclusive power-sharing government,” says Deputy Prime Minister Khupe, “we’re looking for a situation where one party wins.” The MDC hopes it will be possible to organise free elections within the year. “Things have changed dramatically … the harassment now [against the MDC] is on a very limited scale,” argues Khupe. She has also called on the Southern African Development Community, the African Union and the United Nations to monitor the entire election process, from voter registration and campaigning to voting and ballot counting.
Before polls can be held, the main task is to take soundings from across Zimbabwe on the draft constitution, then hold a referendum. Then the ?government must ensure that new electoral laws are implemented and that the new electoral commission is working effectively, Khupe says. The newly-passed electoral act provides for a more robust monitoring system, where registered voters will have to go to a specific polling station. This should cut down on double voting.
Biti’s balancing act
The natural exuberance of Finance Minister Tendai Biti was muted as he told Parliament on 15 July about a worsening revenue shortfall that would compel the coalition government to cut spending, holding down wages for the more than 230,000 state employees. This is politically unpalatable for the Movement for Democratic Change ahead of an election. In April, when Biti explained there were no funds to raise the current average civil servant wage of about $170 a month, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, a former trade unionist, insisted that “there is no government policy I know of on wage freeze”.
Yet the economic backdrop, according to an IMF team in Harare in July, suggests the government should take still tougher measures to keep the fragile recovery on course. The IMF reports sharply-falling private-capital inflows after last year’s upturn and a worsening balance of payments, as the government struggles to pay a reduced import bill. That means GDP growth could fall to 2% this year from last year’s 4%, and the government would have to make cuts on capital spending for education and health services as well as power and water.
Two remedies to this grim calculus – an upsurge in mining revenues and a debt-relief deal – offer little short-term respite. Following the restoration of Zimbabwe’s voting rights at the IMF this year, Biti is edging towards a staff-monitored programme, the first step towards a debt deal which could take another two years to secure.
The other deputy prime minister, Arthur Mutambara, is more sceptical: “sometimes we spend time on the outstanding issues, but they don’t affect the calibre and quality of our elections. I’m trying to shift people’s attention to the big picture, to the commissions, to the electoral, anti-corruption, ?human rights, media, national healing commissions.”?
These commissions, according to Mutambara, are the building blocks for accountable government and free elections. They will take many more months to become effective. “If we don’t fix the terrain, he [Mugabe] is going to rig it. In fact, he might do so in a much, much more effective way and there will be no hung parliament, there will be no run-off,” he argues.
Mutambara thinks that getting the nation to approve a new constitution and seeing through the work on the commissions could take another two years, with elections more likely by the end of 2012. The mandate of the current parliament does not expire until 2013. There has been little disagreement between the parties on the best form of constitution. “We all want a clear separation of powers between executive, legislature and judicary, and we all accept the division of powers between the prime minister as head of government and president as head of state … which is the ?basis of our current global political agreement,” he says.
The main clash is over land. Khupe says the MDC is determined to push ahead with a national audit of land holdings, which is certain to be contentious. The last audit was led by Flora Buka, an official in the ZANU-PF-controlled vice-president’s office, and prompted protests after it revealed that many senior party officials had broken their own rules of ‘one citizen, one farm’.
For the MDC, the audit is essential if farmers are going to participate in an agricultural rebound. “It is our policy to say that all land belongs to the state and can be given out as 99 year leases – so there is no question of the MDC giving land back to the whites as ZANU-PF claims,” says Khupe. “But we need to get clear title for the land because farmers have to be able to borrow against their land holdings.” Yet pushing this through before elections, in the face of entrenched opposition from ZANU-PF on its its core campaign issue, looks like the MDC’s most ambitious project yet in the ?uneasy coalition.