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Why elections are unlikely in 2013

The expectation ever since the inauguration of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) on September 15, 2008 and its Government of National Unity (GNU) on February 14, 2009 that harmonised elections would be held sooner rather than later, has been integral to the Zimbabwean political psyche.

Opinion by Ibbo Mandaza

Yet it is also an expectation that has become increasingly illusive, even as the political leadership — particularly President Robert Mugabe — vows, annually since 2009, that elections will be held with or without a new constitution.

So, if nothing appears certain about the date of the next election it is, regrettably, also this political uncertainty, generated by such endless talk about an event that should otherwise restore confidence about the future of Zimbabwe, which constitutes a major drag on an economy which saw phenomenal growth of over 9,5% in 2009, but now stalling to well below 5% in 2012.

The media in particular, but also academic analyses in general, have failed so far to probe behind the political rhetoric that has become a unique feature of Zimbabwean society, so as to identify and explore the dynamics and realities that might inhere a better tomorrow.

At the outlet, therefore, are at least four reasons why there will be no harmonised elections in 2013: three of these relate to the processes antecedent to such elections; and the fourth concerns Zimbabwe’s crisis of succession which cannot be resolved by a poll but through a Transitional Mechanism until the country is ready for a meaningful contest.

All this notwithstanding Mugabe’s recent assertions: in October, that elections will be held by March 2013, “with or without a new constitution”; at the opening of parliament on November 15, that the nation must prepare for the event in 2013; and finally, at the Zanu PF national conference on December 9, his threat that he could at any time dissolve parliament and announce the date of the election in 2013.

First, and most obvious, the fading time-line to 2013: the referendum on the draft constitution, an event that should have come and gone in October or November this year, is now more likely in May or June than February or March 2013; and excluding the other three factors to be outlined herein as rendering elections not possible in 2013, the earliest they could be held in October 2013, that is within four months of the dissolution of parliament on June 29, 2013, the latter being the date of the so-called “automatic dissolution” after five years since the last harmonised elections in March 2008.

Second, and less obvious given the dust generated by political rhetoric and even euphoria about a constitution-making exercise now almost complete, is the process likely to be as long-drawn out as was the case in Kenya where it has taken almost two years of synchronising the old laws with the new constitution.

The constitutional lawyers on both sides (Zanu PF and MDCs) of the political spectrum are acutely aware of this requirement as part and parcel of any constitution-making exercise, but dare not speak out loud on it, for fear of being labelled saboteurs of an election mode which, by the look of things, is unable to convert itself into the required frenzy.

Behind the scenes, however, there are those quiet murmurs of acknowledgement: a Zanu PF big wig thinks at least six months will be required to synchronise the current laws with the new constitution; and an MDC-T counterpart, who has just returned from a visit to Kenya, is convinced the process will exceed 18 months, at best!

Third, and always to be remembered, are the principles which have become virtual gospel in Sadc’s mediation of the GPA, as highlighted by the Sadc Troika on December 9, 2012, almost as if to challenge Mugabe’s assertions at the Zanu PF’s conference in Gweru on the same day: namely, that there can be no elections until a referendum on the draft constitution and the completion of the reform agenda as stipulated by the GPA and its related road map.

Admittedly, the debate on what constitutes the “minimum conditions” for “free and fair elections” has become confused and even open-ended as the GPA itself has unfolded and as the MDC is almost hand-in-glove with Zanu PF in the state.

Now, depending on the political occasion, the MDC-T in particular vacillates between an almost religious adherence to the demand for reforms as a precondition for elections, and an acceptance of Mugabe’s gauntlet for polls in 2013.

The question is whether MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai, and Welshman Ncube (MDC-N), too, will join Mugabe and Zanu PF in defying Sadc over a principle that is the cornerstone of the GPA and therefore the raison d’etre of the mediation exercise, or convince South Africa and the regional body that all is clear for free and fair elections in 2013.

My bet is that the MDC as a whole will err on the side of caution, choosing, in the final analysis, to play it safe in the arms of Sadc and South Africa in particular, for fear of a repeat of 2008.

In which case, Mugabe’s threat of going ahead with elections, with or without a new constitution and related reforms, can at best be a lame one, not least because the old man is hardly in a position to spoil for a fight against his own regional body, a re-elected President Jacob Zuma (pictured left), and an international community he has already begun to court and re-engage as part of his legacy-building in the final years of a long but tumultuous political career.

And this is precisely the fourth point I wish to highlight, namely, that Mugabe cannot possibly reconcile an election agenda in 2013, with all its potential for a bruising campaign and violence on the one hand, and, on the other, the need to leave behind him a legacy at least favourable enough to redeem some of those unsavoury parts of his political life, while simultaneously bequeathing Zimbabwe a new constitution, a peaceful transition from his era to the next, the foundations of sustainable economic growth and development, and a return to the international community of nations.

Therefore, the constitution-making exercise in particular will have provided a convenient platform from which to launch his legacy-building programme.

Perhaps this explains why Mugabe salvaged an exercise that had taken three years, gobbled almost US$50 million and was about to crash in failure.

So, almost out of the blue, the Copac saga was rescued in August 2012 and, notwithstanding much grandstanding and much-a-do-about nothing on the part of all concerned, a Second All-Stakeholders’ Conference was successfully held three months later in November, and, by all accounts, Mugabe, under the garb of the “Principals”, had pulled it off, almost single-handedly. Our suspicions, as long ago as August, that a deal had been done dusted through the agency of Mugabe himself, will be confirmed next Monday December 24, as the completed draft constitution is unveiled and, perhaps, even the date of the referendum announced.

The dominant role of Mugabe and his fellow Principals (gradually including Ncube) cannot be ignored: it has tended to belittle the function and status of the legislature, simultaneously transcending party political boundaries in reality, and rendering, not only the referendum but even the election contest itself, almost superfluous.

This new institution of the “Principals” is, of course, a child of the GPA/GNU; and if Mugabe in particular has expressed misgivings about the GNU, he appears to regard the “Principals” as an exception, certainly something that could be a useful factor in the Transitional Mechanism which is proposed below.

In the meantime, it is an institution that has created a level of national consensus that now stands inconsistent with an election contest in 2013. This is why, even now, election talk is so shrill and, with the passage of weeks and a referendum more based on national consensus than contest, will become increasingly discordant with public opinion so suspicious and fearful of elections.

So, who really wants elections in 2013, quite apart from the issue of their feasibility given what has been outlined in the foregoing?
I have intimated why, all being equal, Mugabe would prefer to pursue his legacy-building programme even, as appears to be the case so far, he is not aware that this – and the institution of “Principals” – could be undermined by an election in 2013.

Then there is also the age factor (89 in 2013!) which should be an inhibiting factor; and I have to wonder whether those who fete and declare him so loudly as the “sole candidate”, almost ad infinitum, do so genuinely or are merely victims of the crisis of succession in the former liberation movement. Whatever the case, it does not make sense to want to subject an old man to the vagaries and risks of a bruising contest and thereby deprive him of a more
congenial and comfortable exit from public life.

Certainly, many a Zanu PF stalwart, including ministers and politburo members, quietly confide that it would be better and more meaningful to have the harmonized elections only after the old man has made his exit and a new platform established for the party.

Likewise, Tsvangirai hardly exhibits an appetite for elections in 2013: he has his own personal problems which should make him less than confident about an easy run at the polls, not to mention a fractious party that is also gripped by its own version of a crisis of succession; and many in MDC-T argue openly about the need to delay the date for elections, well beyond 2013, at least until time has taken care of all the attendant problems in the party.

The article by Tony Reeler  and the arguments borrowed from Derek Matyzsak suggest a legal and constitutional rationale for avoiding elections in 2012 and for the kind of GNU II which I recommended earlier this year (“Zimbabwe 2012: Another GNU?”, Zimbabwe Independent, February 16, 2012 ). But the main reasons why there could be no elections in 2013 relate mainly to the processes attendant to the constitution-making and reform exercise, a process that is likely to take at least 18 months after the charter is taken through the referendum and adopted by parliament in May/June 2013.

Such a programme would include the outstanding reform agenda as stipulated in the GPA, especially the Restoration of National Institutions and a well-designed Economic and Social Recovery Programme.

But there is also the problem of the crisis of succession in Zimbabwe, a matter which can be resolved only with the managed and amicable exit of incumbents.

Zimbabweans need to be more resourceful and imaginative than merely resign to the provisions of statutes as if the latter are cast in stone. The dissolution of parliament when its life comes to an end in June 2013 need not mean an imminent election.

Instead, a proclamation could establish a new deadline (say 18 months to 24 months hence) for harmonised elections in 2015, after the constitution-making process is completed comprehensively and likewise the other reforms. A Transitional Government, or GNU II, under the leadership of the president and his Principals (including Ncube) and a selected team of not more than 18 members of cabinet, would steer the country during that period until the date of the election in 2015.

The end justifies the means!

Ibbo Mandaza is a Zimbabwean academic, author and publisher. He is currently the convenor of the Sapes Trust’s Policy Dialogue Forum.


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