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Zimbabwe not ready for elections

AS Zimbabwe approaches the two-year anniversary of the signing of the Global Political Agreement (GPA), the document which underpins its three-party unity government, a number of calls have been made for speedy elections.

The calls are fairly widespread, coming from both the Zanu-PF and the Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC, as well as civil society groups such as the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.

However, Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, who heads the third party to the unity government, suggested during a recent visit to Uganda that Zimbabwe should be in no hurry to go to the polls.

Although regional leaders such as Botswana President Ian Khama and South African President Jacob Zuma have expressed their support for holding elections, the situation is complex. Current conditions are not conducive to ensuring a free and fair poll, so it seems neither practical nor desirable to go to the polls at this point.

According to the terms set out in the GPA, elections are to be held under a new constitution within 18-24 months. However, financial constraints and a lack of political will have slowed the drafting of a new constitution. The outreach exercise by the parliamentary committee responsible for drafting the constitution started only last week, and it is more than a year overdue.

Meanwhile the country still awaits significant change of media laws and landscape, human rights and state security. The European Union and the United States have extended targeted sanctions on senior Zanu-PF officials by another year, citing lack of progress in the implementation of the GPA.

Zanu PF still runs the security forces, which represent a crucial instrument of repression, and President Robert Mugabe still wields significant power. The unity government is relatively powerless, and elections could unleash a reign of terror and violence reminiscent of the run-up to the June 2008 presidential run-off.

The continued failure of the coalition partners to reach an understanding over power sharing, sanctions and the appointment of senior government officials has hindered not only policymaking but the full implementation of the GPA. It also raises doubts about the willingness of the parties to resolve the impasse. In effect, it is scaring off potential investors, damaging the credibility of the GNU and exacerbating political insecurity.

Rather than move quickly to elections, what is needed is for leaders to demonstrate their ability to abide by the rules that they set for themselves through the GPA. Further, they need to show that they have the interests of the nation at heart by disciplining their selfish political interests. This is critical for generating confidence, both within and outside Zimbabwe, and to ensure the success of the GNU.
State institutions that are responsible for running elections need to be revamped in order to facilitate their administration. Agreement must be reached on participation by Zimbabwe’s civil society as well as on funding and monitoring of the polls by the international community.

Holding elections without properly laying the groundwork could produce an outcome that contradicts the spirit and the letter of the GPA and makes a mockery of the independent mediation conducted by regional leaders.

Rudo Chaparadza,
South African Institute of International Affairs.

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