Both President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai have on several occasions spoken on the imminence of a general election as a way of disentangling the country from the current political logjam as well as a wobbly and stuttering economy.
Most Zimbabweans agree that there should be a solution to the political and economic problems facing the country. They also believe in free and fair elections. But they are at variance as to how this could be achieved. Zimbabwe’s political problems are centred on the issue of legitimacy which is a result of the elections almost two years ago and despite a political fig leaf in the form of the Global Political Agreement, the country remains a pariah state as seen by how the international financial institutions have hesitated to offer support.
Both Zanu PF and MDC-T have torn off this political fig leaf, highlighting the “outstanding issues” which to a great extent have held the country to ransom. Zanu PF insists that sanctions should be removed while the MDC argues that the appointments of Attorney-General Johannes Tomana and Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono should be reversed and that party treasurer Roy Bennett be sworn in as Deputy Agriculture minister.
The political parties have been stuck over these issues for more than a year now and the argument that another general election would clear the air makes sense at face value.
However, while a general election would clear the way for a revived economy, the country should be cautious and examine the conditions under which they would be held. It would be wrong to say elections should be held immediately after a new constitution because no matter how good the final document, there are other factors which would count if the elections are to be free and fair. A new constitution is drawn up without institutional reforms may only serve to confront a new administration with the same problems that the present government is facing.
Lessons should be learnt from the signing of the GPA which was thought to be the turning point in the revival of the country.
It is thus important to address issues such as national healing, reforming the police and judiciary, and reforming all institutions concerned with holding elections. A new constitution may not address the issue of national healing and having another election without concluding this or without reforming law-enforcement agencies would be a recipe for disaster.
The country is injured, there should be a deliberate effort to make sure that the injuries, some caused by state-sponsored violence, are healed for us to start collecting the broken pieces and walk tall again as a nation.
This would be the first steps towards nation-building, something which we forgot to undertake in the euphoria of the time. This is the area in which the otherwise dormant Organ on National Healing has to play a big part instead of being reduced to mere spectators in the unfolding drama where they only collect information which gathers dust in offices without any idea of what to do with it. The same criticism can be applied to Jomic which has achieved nothing over the past year.
Another issue that has to be addressed before another election can be held is to make sure that soldiers are kept in their rightful place — the barracks. The military has no business in campaigning for a particular political party or running elections or any other body that is tasked with administration of polls. There are issues which may be addressed in the new constitution, such as the body responsible for registration of voters, the duties of the delimitation commission and how it would operate, the number of seats and the parliamentary system.
However, no matter what the constitution says about the above, it is not an end in itself. There must be a sense of responsibility and trust in such institutions and this cannot be built on the platform of a constitution alone. Confidence-building may take time, especially coming from a background where these institutions were complicit in the flaws of the country’s elections. Even after all these issues have been addressed, there still remains a hurdle as the country has to do a cost benefit analysis on whether to hold elections at a time the coffers are empty and the public service is restive as a result of poor salaries. What should come first, an election which may or may not bring the country back on track, or mobilising resources first and then hold elections later.
It would be ironical if the political leaders suddenly say they have the financial resources to have a general election when there are more than 15 constituencies which have spent more than a year without representation after they lost their MPs. By-elections have not been held in these constituencies because of lack of resources and respective political parties have chosen to ignore the whole issue while preferring to talk about the next general election.