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Early poll campaign off the rails

FOR the past four years Zanu PF has unsuccessfully tried to railroad Zimbabwe into early elections to end the life of the unity government without implementation of critical reforms as stipulated in the Global Political Agreement (GPA).

Elias Mambo

President Robert Mugabe, increasingly battling advanced age and poor health, wanted elections as early as 2010 – just a year after the formation of a shaky coalition government – when he could still cope with the punishing demands of tough election campaigns.

Mugabe’s incessant calls for elections, repeatedly endorsed annually at his party’s national conferences, have failed to stampede the nation into early polls without implementation of the agreed roadmap amid resistance from Sadc and the MDC formations – Zanu PF’s uneasy bedfellow in the coalition government.

The MDC parties are only too wary that polls without reforms would maintain the electoral playing field heavily tilted in Zanu PF’s favour, raising the possibility of another disputed election and the perpetuation of the current political stalemate.

In its desperate bid for early polls, Zanu PF has gone as far as claiming the unity government was a two-year agreement and thus elections were long overdue, despite the GPA lacking a sunset clause.

Mugabe has even ironically claimed the unity government was an illegal arrangement and a subversion of the people’s will, hence early elections were vital as that would allow people to choose their leaders.

The GPA, basis of the coalition government, was signed after Mugabe lost the first round of polling to MDC-T leader, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai who was later forced to withdraw from the run-off due to political violence and intimidation.

Mugabe’s frantic anxiety over early elections was also evident when he threatened to expel Sadc facilitator, South African President Jacob Zuma’s facilitation team in February after it kept on pressing Zanu PF to adhere to the GPA and implement attendant reforms.

Zuma’s team had riled Zanu PF by persistently pushing for implementation of the roadmap before elections, while the former ruling party wanted polls held early with some of the party’s bigwigs suggesting reforms could come after voting.

Zanu PF has steadfastly dismissed calls for the reforms which among other things include the electoral, media and security sector issues, deriding them as “cheap talk from electoral cowards”.

As part of that campaign Mugabe and his loyalists alleged the unity government was a dysfunctional “creature”, without any sense of irony as the previous Zanu PF regimes drove the country to near collapse amid political and economic problems.

Mugabe’s most recent attempts to fix election dates favourable to his party and himself through the High Court backdoor manouevres, reported in the last issue of the Zimbabwe Independent, by way of securing an order declaring polls be held by or on June 29 in an ongoing by-elections case shows he is sweating over his uncertain political fate.

Mugabe and his Zanu PF officials have been strenuously lobbying for elections to be held by June 29, citing constitutional and legal grounds – dismissed by their political rivals and lawyers as politically expedient.

In response to Mugabe’s court strategy, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai filed an urgent application saying Mugabe’s move was tantamount to calling for elections through the backdoor without consulting other coalition government partners.

Although he later withdrew his application, Tsvangirai had argued June elections would not be feasible as the country still needed to implement all agreed electoral reforms before they could agree on a suitable date for the polls.

Zanu PF insiders say Mugabe and his loyalists now desperately want polls by June as fears mount the 89-year old leader, who recently made a veiled admission to growing senility and frailty, might struggle to sustain rigorous election campaigns.

In terms of the GPA and elections roadmap, Mugabe is required to proclaim election dates in consultation with Tsvangirai although this would need to be aligned with the coming in of a new constitution under which polls would be held.

Brian Raftopoulos, a senior research mentor at the University of Western Cape, said Zanu PF was never committed to reforms to usher in a democratic dispensation.

“Zanu PF has never sought genuine reforms towards a democratic dispensation but only agreed to form a coalition government with the intention of regrouping and consolidating after plunging to the nadir of legitimacy after the 2008 electoral defeat,” Raftopoulos said.
Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director Pedzisai Ruhanya said Mugabe and his party used the GPA and coalition to get respite while resisting reforms before elections.

“Zanu PF is trying to force elections without reforms. They are trying to circumvent the Sadc roadmap but this has not worked because regional leaders have remained firm on their stance that reforms must precede elections,” he said.

“By taking the court route Zanu PF may achieve its objective and may only implement minimum reforms to do with the electoral process so that it does not ruffle Sadc’s feathers because it needs legitimacy if it wins the next elections.”

In a bid to ensure conditions are conducive ahead of elections, Sadc resolved to deploy its troika team to beef up the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee to ensure full implementation of the GPA. However, Zanu PF has consistently blocked the team, arguing that Zimbabwe was a sovereign state and its presence amounted to internal inteference.

Last month Zanu PF practically declared war on Sadc by refusing to allow the facilitation team and troika representatives to work with the GPA parties through Jomic.

A meeting between the facilitation team, Jomic and the troika representatives collapsed amid fierce clashes which signalled the resurgence of open political tensions ahead of elections.


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