Zanu PF’s President Robert Mugabe has spoken about the possibility of 2011 elections and both he and MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai have openly encouraged their party members to be ready for polling.
But the question on many minds is whether Zimbabwe is ready to hold elections next year with a host of electoral and political reforms still not in place before the nation is dragged into a plebiscite.
The elections of March 2008 and the presidential run-off in June 2008 saw a blood bath following a wave of inter-party violence.
There is a fear that those who were behind the violence that rocked the country could repeat the clashes next year unless political reforms are put in place. Analysts say the political parties, who are signatories to the Global Political Agreement (GPA), Zanu PF, MDC-T and MDC, want the coalition government to continue to maintain the status quo.
Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara has led calls against 2011 elections, arguing Zimbabwe has no capacity to hold elections under the current political environment until electoral reforms are implemented. Under the Electoral Bill, which is still not law, election results would have to be announced within five days of the polls and an electronic voters’ roll would be put in place, among other sweeping changes set to transform the country’s electoral system.
MDC-T and MDC are hopeful that reforms would bring transparency to the system that has been flawed in previous polls. Mugabe is alleged to have manipulated the elections by appointing his supporters to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, alleged changing of ballot papers and unleashing political violence on opponents.
ZEC chairperson Justice Simpson Mutambanengwe declined to comment but political parties insist elections will take place.
MDC-T spokesman Nelson Chamisa described elections in 2011 as inevitable as Christmas on a Christian calendar. He believes elections are a platform for legitimisation of a government that will replace the present setup.
“The party is in a permanent state not only for elections but real change,” he said. “There is no real change in Zimbabwe now until fresh free and fair elections. The solution is to deal with the electoral regime; implement the necessary reforms with a sense of urgency.”
Chamisa was optimistic the electoral reforms would be in place before the proclamation of election dates by Mugabe but was cautious about the full implementation of the Electoral Bill once it becomes an Act. He said apart from having a new voters roll, ZEC should focus on educating the population about the importance of participating in elections while key government institutions must be reformed.
“We want rule of law; our public broadcaster, ZBCtv, should reflect views of all political parties. Mono-broadcasting regimes that support Zanu PF and ignore other parties must come to an end,” said Chamisa.
MDC-T claims that its supporters were maimed and killed by Zanu PF in the run-up to the June 2008 presidential run-off where Mugabe declared himself the winner. Political pundits say it is worrying that the brains behind 2008 violence were not accountable for their actions.
On the other hand Zanu PF believes elections will be held in 2011 after a referendum on a new constitution. Zimbabwe cannot, political observers say, afford to sponsor a referendum and elections in the same year while others argue that local elections have been sponsored by organisations like the United Nations Development Programme.
Zanu PF secretary for information and publicity Rugare Gumbo noted that the inclusive government’s lifespan would expire two years after its formation — February 2009 — after which Zimbabwe should go for elections. He said once the constitution is in place, then elections dates would be proclaimed by Mugabe.
“Elections are coming and we are obviously getting ready,” said the Zanu PF spokesman. Asked if his party would accept the results, Gumbo said they would respect the will of Zimbabweans.
Mugabe withheld the presidential election results in 2008 after losing to Tsvangirai and there are fears that history may repeat itself.
While it is feared among his opponents that Mugabe would refuse to relinquish power in the event he loses the polls, Mutambara has indicated on several occasions that he does not want elections.
This time Mutambara says there is no reason to rush for elections citing a shortage of money and need to implement critical reforms.
Other political parties see Mutambara’s sentiments as an excuse not to participate in elections for fear of losing.
Zapu spokesman Methuseli Moyo lambasted the parties to the GPA for not being open about elections next year and efforts to prolong the makeshift government.
“Zapu wants elections even now. All other parties who dilly-dally on elections are just giving excuses. Some talk of outstanding issues but everyone has grievances; as Zapu we have issues like Gukurahundi and properties that were seized by Zanu PF,” he said.
“We must hold elections so that we solve the outstanding issues.”
The slow pace of democratic reforms and what the MDC-T says is selective application of the law are some of the issues affecting the coalition government’s progress.