Zim in Catch 22 situation over mulled elections

ZIMBABWE’S business organisations, labour and politicians could be in a catch 22 situation as tension around holding next year’s general election hots up.
The Employers’ Confederation of Zimbabwe (Emcoz) –– a grouping of employers –– became the first business organisation to appeal to President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his deputy Arthur Mutambara to put in place a five year moratorium to an early poll planned for next May. For them, economic recovery and national healing should take precedence over elections.

Fear of politically motivated violence stands as the main reason for not holding elections among business and civil society organisations. For business, elections would reverse economic gains credited to the inclusive government formed last year. Analysts say the pro-liberal coalition helped Zimbabwe’s economy grow by 5% last year –– the first recorded expansion since 1998.

Capacity utilisation for local industries which had plunged to below 10% at the height of hyperinflation two years ago rose to an average 40% since the formation of the coalition.

Daniel Ndlela, a renowned economist, says the country could be in a dilemma as financial aid inflows are reduced to a trickle, with Western governments pinning more pledges on political reforms.

“The nation is in a Catch 22 situation because of vested interests in the status quo. It’s a dilemma. One could sympathise with business because of the uncertainty that comes with the elections,” Ndlela said.

“The economy could be crippled after the election. But from a politician’s point of view, an election could be an opportunity to unlock the value of Zimbabwe. Already no inflows have been coming because of the impasse in the coalition.”

He said although credible polls could unlock problems in the coalition government, the election could again come at a cost. Treasury estimates that the referendum and general election — estimated at US$200 million — would be way above monthly government revenue.

“Again because of the intransigence of the other party (Zanu PF) it looks like an election is the only way, which again comes at a cost. For example, the high cost of the election of US$200 million could limit any chances of a pay rise to the civil service, given the current performance of the economy”, he said.

Deon Theron, the rotating chairman of the Business Council of Zimbabwe contends that a new legitimate government could restore waning business confidence in the Southern African state. He said partners in the inclusive government should demonstrate their commitment to holding an internationally accepted poll. This could be asking too much from President Robert Mugabe, whose party believes that Zimbabwe is under siege from an invisible hand seeking “regime change”.

“We need stability in the country. The Global Political Agreement has not fully restored confidence among investors. So, we feel that we should have elections as soon as possible but the current situation is not conducive for a free and fair election,” Theron said.
“We have a lot of work to do before we can have an election under internationally accepted standards. It’s possible when politicians show extreme commitment in having a free and fair election.”

Theron who is also the Commercial Farmers Union president — an organisation of white commercial farmers whose properties were expropriated during the land reform exercise undertaken in 2000 — hopes the new government would bring to finality cases of 198 commercial farmers being prosecuted in court for illegal occupation of their farms. The challenge for the new government, he noted, would be the restoration of property rights.
Lovemore Matombo, president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, admits that holding elections next year under the current political environment is not ideal. But he says an appeal by Emcoz to push the polls to 2015 is exploitative to downtrodden workers struggling to eke out a living.
“Generally we would want an election to be held as quickly as possible but we feel that any poll held without Sadc supervision is likely to be contested,” Matombo said.

“What employers are saying (the moratorium) is that lets continue to exploit workers for the next five years because they are making profits. The retail sector, for example, is making a lot of money. So as labour we would have expected companies to increase salaries in line with capacity utilisation which rose from below 10% in 2008 to an average of 40% currently. So the status quo is benefiting them.”

He claimed that although Zanu PF has publicly announced its readiness for the polls, most government ministers inclined to the party were  benefiting from the current economic environment.

“We want Sadc to supervise and monitor the next election because you cannot have two antagonists being in power for the next five years. One of the parties might be consumed,” Matombo warned.

 

Bernard Mpofu

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