Mugabe, who has labelled his inclusive government partners as “cowards” for resisting elections this year without reforms, has said he was likely to announce election dates this month. He has been pressuring the Select Committee of Parliament on the new constitution (Copac) to finalise its process, saying he wants to proclaim dates of elections this month, with or without a new constitution.
In addition, Mugabe, who has declared he would edit out issues he does not want from the constitution, says the principals would now take charge of the constitution-making process to resolve disputed issues and speed up the process towards elections.
If push comes to shove, Mugabe has warned, he would arbitrarily call for elections in terms of the current constitution –– negating the new constitution, which is a central element of the GPA.
If Mugabe goes ahead on elections it would create a dilemma for the two MDC formations. The two parties would have to decide whether to contest elections without reforms or boycott. Both options carry some opportunities and risks, yet they are very difficult choices to make.
Observers say if the MDC parties run and lose the elections, they would have given Mugabe a semblance of legitimacy no matter how flawed and disputed the polls would be.
Contesting the next elections without reforms carries with it serious risks as has been shown by past polls since the emergence of the MDC in 1999.
Elections held in 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2008 were disputed due to violence and intimidation, as well as allegations of vote-rigging and many other irregularities. It would, thus, be difficult for the MDC formations to contest elections under same conditions and expect different results.
Boycotting would also have negative implications for the parties. Mugabe, who is battling advanced age and ill-health, would probably welcome the move by the MDC parties and soldier on to form his own government.
In the past it would have been difficult for him to do that because of the economic meltdown and hyperinflation.
However, now Mugabe might have the guts to be defiant because the economic environment has changed since 2008 following the introduction of the multicurrency regime and exchange rate stabilisation. The other game-changer has been the Chiadzwa diamonds which are firmly under Mugabe and Zanu PF ministers’ control.
MDC-T organising secretary Nelson Chamisa, when asked about this, was non-committal on what his party would do if Mugabe calls for elections.
However, Prime Minister Tsvangirai has said he will fight to have elections by March 2013. He said a new constitution and other reforms should be in place ahead of the elections, meaning his party might not participate in polls without reforms.
National University of Science and Technology (NUST) lecturer Lawton Hikwa said the MDC parties were in a dilemma because their demands for reforms prior to elections may not be addressed. He said it was likely that once a new constitution was in place, Mugabe would proclaim election dates.
Hikwa said the only wise option for the MDC groups was to participate in the elections but the current negotiated process leading to the polls could give them a chance to push for elections next year.
“The MDC parties are complaining about outstanding issues but the only major reform issue that can be an impediment is the new constitution,” said Hikwa.
Political analyst Professor John Makumbe said early elections put the MDCs in a quandary but boycotting should be their best option.
“If Tsvangirai, Ncube and other participate in elections this year, they will be falling into Mugabe’s trap. It’s not wise to have elections this year but then Mugabe would like such a situation where the MDC groups boycott and then he would remain in power for the next five years by default,” he said.
Hikwa argued Mugabe was unlikely to call for elections this year but the government could do so and the president, in his capacity as head of state, would then endorse that and gazette the polls date.
The MDC led by Professor Welshman Ncube has said the party has not yet adopted a position whether to participate in forced early elections or not. The party wants elections next year after implementation of reforms.
Party spokesman Nhlanhla Dube said chances of parliamentary and presidential elections this year were slim because of packed calendar events. He said the referendum was likely in the third quarter of the year after the national population census due in August. Dube said it was not possible to hold the referendum this month as demanded by Mugabe because the draft was not yet complete and logistical arrangements were still not in place as well.
“Zanu PF’s talk of an election this year is purely wishful thinking because if you look at the constitution, we will have it by the third quarter of the year, paving the way for elections early next year,” he said.
Ncube told his party supporters in Bulawayo this week that Zanu PF should stop talking about early elections until reforms were fully implemented.
“They must not talk of elections before reforms, including stopping repression. They must not talk of elections before they free television and radio stations for all parties to get an opportunity to explain their manifestos and reach the masses,” said Ncube.
Zapu spokesman Methuseli Moyo said Mugabe was desperate to frog-march Zimbabweans to early elections before full implementation of the GPA to pave way for chaotic and shambolic polls which he would manipulate to his advantage.
“Mugabe knows that he is going to win if he forces elections before critical reforms; there is obviously going to be chaos across Zimbabwe. He will then take advantage of the dramatic scenes to terrorise and outmanoeuvre his opponents in the same way he did in June 2008 during the presidential election run-off,” said Moyo.
“In a chaotic situation, Mugabe may simply refuse to go even if he loses. We are dealing with a ruthless dictator who will do anything to stay in office,” said Moyo.
Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn (MKD) leader Simba Makoni said recently that early elections were not an option. “The electoral environment should be conducive for the holding of credible election first. MKD is deeply worried by the prevailing political environment in which talk of elections instills fear among the people.”