‘Elections in March impossible’

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GROWING calls by President Robert Mugabe for elections in March next year without implementation of outstanding political reforms is a recipe for another flawed and disputed poll, stakeholders warned this week.

Report by Elias Mambo/Paidamoyo Muzulu

Mugabe on Tuesday repeated his agitation for elections in March while officially opening the final session of the current parliament.

He has been demanding polls since 2011 without full implementation of the Global Political Agreement (GPA), citing all sorts of pretexts.

Analysts say at 88 he is desperate for early elections while he is still relatively fit as he is battling with old age complications and frailty. Mugabe was in Singapore for further medical check-ups last week, although he is struggling to keep the issue a secret.

In an unusually short speech by his standards, Mugabe told parliament government was working towards dissolution of the coalition government and the only major outstanding reform is the constitution, implying all the stalled road-map issues would now be ignored.

The reforms which Mugabe ignored are critical to the holding of free and fair elections. Zimbabwe entered into a coalition government after the disputed 2008 presidential poll run-off. Regional leaders insisted the inclusive government must come up with an elections roadmap to ensure poll results are not disputed again.

However, no meaningful reforms have been done.

Some of the issues raised by the MDC-T, for instance security sector reform and re-staffing of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), have not been addressed even though they are in the roadmap.
MDC leader Welshman Ncube this week warned going for elections without meaningful reforms would be disastrous.

“Mugabe should not be allowed to call for elections without implementing all of the agreed reforms as per Sadc’s election roadmap,” said Ncube, who is also Industry and Commerce minister. “If Zimbabwe is stampeded into the polls, then we are heading for another flawed election similar to the 2008 one.”

Pedzisai Ruhanya, a director at a local think tank, the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, said elections without security sector reforms would produce contested results.

“The most critical outstanding issue that assists a democratic political transition when elections take place is the role of the military in electoral affairs and without the security reforms, free and fair elections will remain a mirage,” he said.

MDC-T House of Assembly chief whip Innocent Gonese said Mugabe’s call for elections in March 2013 is not practical.

“I do not see the holding of elections being feasible in March considering the reforms that still need to be implemented and the time between now and March,” said Gonese. “Reforms are slow because of disagreements among the political principals, not that parliament is delaying these reforms.”

United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, Navy Pillay, warned that Zimbabwe should not rush to hold elections without full implementation of agreed reforms during her visit in May.

“I believe it is essential that a satisfactory new constitution with an entrenched Bill of Rights is in place soon, so that the referendum can confirm it and all the electoral reforms for peaceful, free and fair elections,” Pillay said.

Mugabe has not spelt out how government would implement the electoral reforms to meet the March date he is proposing to hold elections. There are still a number of fundamental issues that need to be addressed before the gazetting of poll dates, such as voter education, voters’ roll updating and inspection and constituency delimitation, besides completing the constitution-making process after a referendum.

These activities would require about 180 days to implement, while the statutory waiting period between holding of the actual polls and gazetting of the elections dates is 90 days.

Given that the year is about to end, Mugabe can only pull off the March 2013 dates by circumventing reforms and some of the statutory processes and requirements.

Further considering that Mugabe goes on his annual leave in January, often grounding government business, it means more time would be lost. He would also have to make parliament sit in January, which is traditionally the House’s Christmas recess until the end of February, to maximise on time.

Besides all these technicalities that make it impossible for elections to be held in March, Mugabe, according to the GPA, is supposed to agree on a date of polls after consultations with the Prime Minister. In case he unilaterally announces March 2013, Mugabe would be taking advantage of a court case on by-elections, setting the stage for a bruising fight on the actual dates of elections.

However, if processes and procedures are followed, it would not be possible to hold elections in March. Short of a unilateral declaration, probably assisted by the court case he is manipulating and trying to ride on, Mugabe would again be forced to swallow his own words on election dates as he has been doing since last year.

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