A Zimbabwean government proposal to harmonise the date of presidential and parliamentary elections is motivated by the “unresolved” succession issue within the ruling ZANU-PF party, say political analysts.
Patrick Chinamasa, Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Aff
airs, told IRIN that a draft constitution amendment bill was being prepared before President Robert Mugabe’s term expired in 2008 to ensure that presidential and parliamentary elections coincided.
Under existing legislation, presidential elections are held every six years, with legislative polls at five-year intervals. The next presidential election in Zimbabwe is due in 2008, while parliamentary polls should be held in 2010. Mugabe, 81, has been in power since Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain in 1980.
Chinamasa said the proposed amendment would most likely be tabled in parliament early next year.
“It is obvious that the succession issue has not been resolved within ZANU-PF, but the positive element is that the party has at least initiated discussions around it and they need some more time,” commented political analyst Chris Maroleng from the Institute for Security Studies, a South African think-tank.
ZANU-PF has been tight-lipped about the succession, but faction fighting over the issue within the party surfaced ahead of its congress in December 2004, at which Joyce Mujuru was chosen as Mugabe’s vice-president and potential successor.
Six ZANU-PF provincial chairpersons were suspended after it became known that they had attended a meeting to back then parliamentary speaker Emmerson Mnangagwa, while two ministers present at the gathering were also barred from standing as parliamentary candidates in the party’s internal elections.
University of Zimbabwe political scientist John Makumbe observed that by amending the election timeframes ZANU-PF was “merely trying to buy itself more time in power”. He said the proposed changes were meant to ensure that Mugabe remained at the helm, regardless of when the parliamentary polls were held, because “they realise they have a better chance at the elections if he is still around.”
It was not clear whether the government intended altering the parliamentary term of office or that of the president.
Chinamasa has reportedly said the government was considering several options.
On Tuesday the official newspaper, The Herald , quoted him as saying, “Whether the president retires or not, the question, of course, still remains that his term of office expires in 2008. We have also at the (ruling ZANU-PF) party taken a decision to harmonise parliamentary and presidential elections, so various scenarios come to mind as to how we harmonise them.
“We can harmonise by cutting short the current parliamentary term from 2010 to 2008, so that come 2008, we have both presidential and parliamentary elections. That is one route we can follow.
“We can have an election of a president in 2008, only to serve for two years – from 2008 to 2010.
“A third scenario is that we can have an election of a president to serve for seven years, from 2008 to 2015, so that the harmonisation takes place from 2015 onwards. So there are several scenarios.”
If the president’s term was extended, it would give Mugabe more time to deal with the succession issue, Makumbe pointed out.
Maroleng suggested that a clearer indication of ZANU-PF’s intentions would be if changes were made to an existing law, which called for elections within 90 days after the president announced he was stepping down or fell ill. “They could do away with that clause and Mugabe could simply hand power to the next in line within the ZANU-PF, without having to hold elections.”
However, Chinamasa dismissed allegations that the amendments were cosmetic measures meant to perpetuate ZANU-PF’s rule and give the party more time to stabilise if Mugabe retired in 2008, as promised.
“The country has been living in the grip of election campaigns and preparations because presidential and parliamentary polls are held at different times. The amendment, if it comes into force, will do away with this and leave the country more time to develop away from party politics,” said Chinamasa. “It is wrong to view such amendments as self-perpetuation measures that benefit the president and ruling party, because we are a popularly elected party that is governing on behalf of the people.” — IRIN