Editor’s Memo: Elections: Road to reform or another dead end?

Zanu PF’s politburo on Wednesday discussed the constitution-making process in a bid to pile pressure on those involved to fast-track the exercise to rush through the stakeholders’ conference, referendum and parliament towards elections — all this in the next 10 months!

With the way things are going, we are facing tumultuous months ahead. If President Robert Mugabe and the Fifth Column (a clique comprising securocrats and Zanu PF political brutes clandestinely trying to subvert the people’s will) surrounding him succeed in forcing early elections with or without a new constitution, the country would be driven further into a political standoff, with unpredictable consequences and outcomes.

The endgame of Mugabe’s disastrous rule is increasingly becoming inscrutable, more so given his age and frailty. The situation is now more convoluted and volatile than ever before. The more Mugabe continues to hang onto power, becoming further erratic while making contentious and divisive decisions, the more the situation becomes explosive.

Mugabe’s call for early elections has increased worries of a return to 2008’s climate of fear and violence. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has said he wants polls but only after reforms, a position also held by other players including Welshman Ncube.

Whereas it appeared last year, after Mugabe and his coterie failed to railroad the country towards elections, the agreed roadmap would be implemented to guide the country towards free and fair elections – credible in process and outcome — now the situation is dramatically changing.

Given all this, there are important questions that need to be asked. If ever there are going to be free and fair elections in this country there is an urgent need for reforms covering electoral laws and institutions, registration of voters, delimitation of constituencies, postal votes, the role of security forces in elections, observation and monitoring and coverage of parties and candidates by the public media.

It doesn’t really matter who wins in the end so long as the elections were credible.

Although most relevant issues agreed under the Global Political Agreement (GPA) and the subsequent supplementary roadmap have not been implemented, the agreement provides a coherent framework for creating conditions for convincing elections. That is perhaps why Mugabe and his cabal are panicking and trying to wriggle out of the GPA.

The roadmap agreed on by all parties in the GPA last year and endorsed by Sadc calls upon the political leadership to collectively establish clear priorities, with a particular focus on how to secure conditions for free and fair elections.

However, progress remains stymied largely because Zanu PF has not demonstrated a serious commitment to democratic reforms, while the MDC parties are weaker in power relations to force them through. The GPA guarantors and South Africa, the facilitator, have indicated they are prepared to take a much more hands-on approach, although it is unclear how this is going to work and manifest itself in view of hardening positions.

Sadc and other stakeholders must continually engage Zimbabwe’s political leaders to take their own commitments seriously and set clear benchmarks and timelines towards elections. The timing and dates of elections must be informed by the political and reform process.

Elections are important to democratic development and progress. They shape the fate of any nation and determine what changes may be wrought in the social order at a given time. Polls are an affirmation of the will of the people, which is the foundation of democracy.

When elections are flawed and the outcome disputed as often happens here, that not only threatens the survival of democracy but also puts the future of the nation at risk.

In that connection, the most critical question to ask now: Is Zimbabwe on the road to reform and change or another dead end? Put differently, is the country about to see a resolution of the decade-long political stalemate triggered by disputed election results or going around in circles?

 

dumisani@zimind.co.zw

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