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Paragraphs 6.9 to 6.11 of the communiqué released at the end of the summit read: “On Zimbabwe, summit commended stakeholders for their commitment, co-operation and efforts towards the implementation of the Global Political Agreement and urged the parties to the GPA to finalise the constitution-making process and subject it to a referendum thereafter.

“Summit also urged the parties to the GPA, assisted by His Excellency Jacob G Zuma, President of the Republic of South Africa and Sadc facilitator of the Zimbabwe political dialogue, to develop an implementation mechanism and to set out time frames for the full implementation of the roadmap to elections. Summit further commended the facilitator for his efforts towards the realisation of full implementation of GPA.”

Although polls can theoretically still be held this year, given that the Sadc Troika on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation recommended that polls be held within 12 months, insistence by the full summit that the GPA and election roadmap be first fulfilled means polls can only practicably be held sometime next year. The coalition government has up to now done little to implement agreed reforms, leaving it with a substantial implementation backlog.

The Sadc statement was a slap in the face for Mugabe and his backers who were hoping regional leaders would support the push for early polls without reforms outlined in the GPA. Before the summit, Mugabe launched a charm offensive by dispatching envoys to regional leaders to back his plan for early polls, arguing that time was ripe for elections since political and economic stability had been restored in Zimbabwe.

He had also tried to convince regional leaders that it would be in Zimbabwe’s interest to start 2013 on a clean slate without having to worry about elections in a year when the country is co-hosting the United Nations World Tourism Organisation general assembly with Zambia.

However, political analysts believe the writing was on the wall and Mugabe was stretching his luck by asking regional leaders to back his proposal which amounted to GPA repudiation.

Regional leaders had insisted at the highly-charged Livingstone (in Zambia) summit, as well as Sandton (South Africa) last year and Windhoek (Namibia) meetings in 2010 that an election roadmap be put in place first and that all parties work to ensure polls are held in a free and fair environment to avoid a disputed outcome.

Professor Eldred Masunungure of the University of Zimbabwe says Mugabe’s request was akin to asking regional leaders to re-write the GPA and disregard the region’s own principles.

“There was very little scope for Mugabe or Zanu PF to persuade Sadc to change its position. Some of the issues are locked in the GPA, and changing goalposts at this time would be re-writing the GPA,” he said.

“I think he was shooting in the dark. It was a gamble he was never going to win. Sadc stuck to its guns and I’m sure it will continue sticking to its guns because changing at this point would have fatally impaired the credibility and sincerity of the regional leaders.”

Masunungure said although the summit tried to please all parties in the inclusive government by taking into consideration their interests, the message that came out was that the bloc did not want elections held this year.

He said a fair-minded assessment leads to the conclusion that Sadc disapproved elections in 2012, but would prefer them by mid next year.

“It seems Sadc is saying the architecture of elections will not be in place by the end of the year,” he said.

Masunungure said the summit could have been more hard-hitting by declaring that polls could only be held at a specific time, but chose to relax the period to please all parties, hence Zanu PF’s insistence elections can still be held this year since it’s within the 12 months timeframe.

The MDC formations now prefer elections when constitutionally due by June next year, which is also within the Sadc timeframe.

“That’s the reason why publicly all the parties are claiming to be happy with the summit despite their polarised positions,” said Masunungure. “But the demand for infrastructure to be in place means elections can only be held next year because the reforms cannot be done in six months. For example, the delimitation exercise will take several months, and this will only be done after a referendum which may be held in September,” he said.

Another analyst, Dr Joseph Kurebwa, said the Sadc summit was a success given that regional leaders had tried to meet the expectations of all parties in the inclusive government.

Kurebwa said Sadc had, however, sent a clear message that polls should be held, but only after reforms had been adopted.

Dewa Mavhinga, the regional co-ordinator of Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, said it was unlikely that Mugabe would ignore Sadc although there was a need for Sadc to continue with its firm stance.

“Sadc has maintained consensus on the need for reforms in Zimbabwe ahead of elections, dismissing Zanu PF’s calls for elections this year with or without a new constitution,” said Mavhinga.

“It is unlikely that Zanu PF will ignore Sadc. However, the challenge of Zanu PF’s resistance to reforms remains. As we in civil society shift our gear to demand reforms urgently, we ask Sadc to also push for reforms to pave the way for peaceful, free and fair elections.”

The summit also tasked Zuma with assisting the parties in coming up with an implementation mechanism, but it remains to be seen whether Zanu PF would implement the reforms it has purposely refused to honour since the formation of the inclusive government in 2009, despite being a willing signatory to the GPA. Zuma is expected in Harare soon for talks with principals on elections.

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