PRIME Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has met Sadc mediator in Zimbabwe Jacob Zuma to push for the immediate implementation of the regional bloc’s roadmap towards free and fair elections in the country next year.
Tsvangirai met Zuma on Wednesday as a 30-day deadline set by regional leaders for Zimbabwe’s coalition partners to implement outstanding issues lapsed without movement. Regional leaders set the deadline, which expired this week, when they met in Namibia last month.
Zuma’s spokesman Zizi Kodwa yesterday confirmed the meeting but referred all questions to Tsvangirai’s office, saying “it was the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe who requested the meeting and it’s only appropriate that they should comment on it”.
Tsvangirai’s spokesperson Luke Tamborinyoka last night confirmed the meeting. He said his boss raised the issue of clearing remaining global political agreement sticking points and the need for a roadmap for free and fair elections.
Officials close to Tsvangirai, also the MDC-T leader, said he had been mandated with pushing Sadc and the African Union, through Zuma, to pay closer attention to Zimbabwe’s political processes to ensure a free vote.
“He is there to discuss with Zuma how best Zimbabwe can avoid another disputed election,” a source said. The parties had committed themselves to implementing 24 issues they claimed to have agreed on within the deadline, while continuing negotiations on three deadlocked matters: the swearing-in of Roy Bennett into government and the appointments of Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono and Attorney-General Johannes Tomana.
Zuma, appointed by Sadc to mediate and ensure the implementation of the political agreement which led to the formation of the inclusive government, had told his regional colleagues last month that implementation of the issues would form the basis “for the conviction to grow that Zimbabwe can reach her goal of holding free and fair elections”.
But top officials in the MDC-T said a party national council meeting last week resolved to push for elections after resigning themselves to the reality that unresolved issues were likely to remain as shown by lack of movement within the agreed 30-day timetable.
Mugabe said days after the Sadc meeting that he would not give in to the concessions until sanctions were removed, despite having earlier committed himself to the Sadc deadline.
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MDC-T officials told the Independent that as result, a general election next year was inevitable. They said they had tasked Tsvangirai to fight for greater regional involvement as well as push for faster implementation of electoral reforms whose contents are already on the table.
The party now wants coalition partners, Tsvangirai, Mugabe and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara to agree on an actual timeframe for the polls to avoid an ambush situation by Mugabe.
Mugabe’s Zanu PF party has already announced that an election is inevitable next year, while Mutambara has reiterated that the political and economic environment did not favour polls. Mugabe and Tsvangirai are likely to get their wish for a 2011 election, soon after a constitutional referendum which should be held in the first quarter of next year. Tsvangirai and Mugabe have greater control of both central government and parliament than Mutambara.
“It is almost certain that Zimbabwe should return to the ballot box next year because these outstanding issues are unlikely to be solved within the lifespan of this coalition government,” said an MDC-T official close to Tsvangirai. “The meeting with Zuma was part of the election preparation because we want Sadc to start preparing a monitoring team.”
Nelson Chamisa, the MDC-T spokesman, said he did not have details of Zuma and Tsvangirai’s meeting, saying the Prime Minister was in South Africa on government business.
Tsvangirai is in South Africa where he addressed an economic summit on Zimbabwe. He told delegates that he was keen on fresh elections to break the coalition government logjam.
“I am extremely grateful for the leadership that Sadc has shown in its quest to find a lasting solution to the Zimbabwe crisis by prescribing an exit strategy from the current transitional arrangement, which strategy includes a roadmap to a free and fair election. This will not be easy, but with help from South Africa and Sadc, and the rest of the international community, it is possible,” he said without specifying a timeframe.
Chamisa said the Sadc 30-day deadline had passed this week without any movement because neither inter-party negotiators nor the principals met to discuss how to implement the issues before the expiry of the deadline. He said an MDC national council meeting last week emphasised the need for Sadc, as well as local stakeholders, to ensure free and fair elections.
Chamisa said apart from intensifying regional lobbying, his party was pushing for faster implementation of democratic reforms to avoid delays in holding elections.
“This government has always been temporary. Any longer gestation period will benefit Zanu PF because they are the ones being cleansed and sanitised by this government,” he said.
“Election preparedness and readiness is not just a function of timetables. What is important is a framework for fair elections. That is what the party is focused on.”
Some of the issues the MDC has decided to push for are electoral and media reforms, as well as demilitarising rural areas where Chamisa alleged soldiers were still intimidating people. Tsvangirai told delegates to the economic summit that discussions were underway to achieve these reforms before the next poll.