ELECTION rumblings are gathering pace in Harare as the unity government in Zimbabwe heads for the expiry of its two-year mandate next year. President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu (PF) party says it is more than ready to take on an election next year and its partner in the government, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), also appears to be in favour of a poll.
Despite the still-strong likelihood of violence, support for an election next year is gaining ground because of frustration with the pace of reform and the political infighting holding back the country’s recovery. The unity government is not tackling the tough issues.
As rebel Zimbabwe cricketer Henry Olonga said recently, the rot in his country is much deeper than anything a unity government can deal with.As long as those leaders who have been perpetrators of all those human rights abuses are still around, it’s just a facelift. They’ve just tightened things to make it look a little more pretty,” he told Wisden Cricketer magazine.
Expectations of an economic dividend from the political compromise have not been met. Finance Minister Tendai Biti has revised downwards growth projections for key sectors — mining, tourism and manufacturing — forecasting gross domestic product growth of 5,4%, down from 7%.
Official diamond sales to fund revenue shortfalls have not been possible until now because of human rights abuses in diamond fields and official theft by old-guard politicians (Mining Minister Obert Mpofu is reported to have been on a property buying spree recently, acquiring 27 properties in Victoria Falls alone).
A new constitution is the MDC’s condition for taking part in an election. But the process of drawing it up has been delayed by nearly eight months because of political squabbles and funding shortages. Last month, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC and Mugabe jointly kick-started it again, with the launch of the constitutional outreach programme, which will let Zimbabweans make inputs. The leaders urged people to keep to the timetable, suggesting a new urgency to complete the constitution, possibly with an election in mind.
The public participation process is crucial to avoid a repeat of what happened in 2000, when the nation voted against a draft constitution drawn up by the government with minimal consultation and public input.
But Mugabe has not been as eager to implement key reforms that are considered necessary to the holding of a free and fair election. These mostly involve reversing legislation he introduced in the heady days of unfettered power up to 2008.
More than 23 bills before parliament — relating to, among others, human rights and security reforms, media freedom and access to information — have not yet been passed and the Public Order and Security Act, which curtails freedom of movement and association, remains on the statute books. Mugabe retains most of the powers he has abused in previous elections.
These include presidential powers. He retains control of the army and police leadership, despite the shared home affairs portfolio with the MDC.
State radio recently revived jingles hailing Mugabe’s leadership and airing other crude Zanu (PF) propaganda that had not been heard since the launch of the unity government.
The party has also been accused of mobilising its forces, using the constitutional process to unleash its thugs in rural areas to intimidate people into resisting MDC proposals.
Would a Zanu (PF) poll win, with Mugabe at the helm, be taken seriously by the international community, which has resisted pumping aid and investment into Zimbabwe because of what he and his party represent? There is likely to be a question mark over such a win anyway, given the history of violent and rigged elections.
A clean slate is what the country needs. Zanu (PF) in its current form does not represent this. An overhaul of structures may give the party a chance of winning an internationally monitored poll — not an overnight process. Its eagerness to hold an election suggests a resort to tactics of old. The uneasy truce may have tided Zimbabwe over a difficult period and broken Mugabe’s and Zanu (PF)’s stranglehold on power. But undue haste to bring about a new dispensation may be a bigger obstacle to progress than continuing with the compromise for a while longer, in order to put sturdier building blocks in place.