Mugabe sets elections for March, but will Zimbabwe be ready?

The elections would include both presidential and legislative contests. But critics say that too many political issues remain unresolved for elections to be fairly held in March.

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    Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe addresses the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, September 26.
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Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980, announced last week that harmonized elections – which will include presidential and legislative elections – will be held in March next year in the southern African country. But political analysts and parties have described the proclamation as “daydreaming.”

The troubled country last held elections in 2008 which were roundly condemned by the international community after violence which claimed over 200 supporters of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) party.

A government of national unity was formed after the elections, uniting the MDC-T, Mr. Mugabe’s ZANU PF, and a smaller faction of the MDC led by Welshman Ncube. But there has been discord in the fractious government and lately there has been haggling over a new constitution.

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While Mr. Tsvangirai and Mr. Ncube have agreed to a draft constitution, Mugabe has been dragging his feet over the document citing the devolution of power, gay rights, and dual citizenship as his main areas of contention.

Despite the sharp differences bedeviling the government, Mugabe announced elections will be held next March.

Diamond discovery

But political activist Raymond Majongwe doubts that the country is ready.

“The issue of elections is dependent on many factors, and I think it is daydreaming to start talking about elections now," he says. "We have not yet matured as a country to go to another election. What I can foresee is worse violence because of the discovery of diamonds in Marange. The people in power are benefiting and they will do anything to stay in power."

“The proclaimed election will take the country back to the old problems," Mr. Majongwe predicts. "The economy will recede, and there will be social chaos if those elections are allowed to happen."

He also warns that election turnout could be stunted if held in March.  "[It] will be rainy season and there is high probability that monitors will not access flood-hit areas because of the weather. This is another way of rigging the election,” he says.

The organizing secretary of MDC-T, Nelson Chamisa, emphasized that there is need for concrete reforms before successful elections can take place. “If conditions prevailing during the date proclaimed by Mr. Mugabe give security of the vote, voter, and freedom after the vote then there is nothing which can stop elections, but if those things are not put in place, then this will be another sham election."

“The date alone cannot be the issue, but [also] fundamental reforms which should be recognized by Southern African Development Community (SADC), African Union (AU), and the international community. Credible reforms must be in place first.”

A fair contest?

Kurauone Chihwayi, deputy spokesperson of the smaller MDC faction, says that the playing field was not yet level. “Elections can only be held around June 2013, considering that there is no free environment at the moment. A lot of things need to be ironed out first, including fulfilling the agreed issues in the GPA,” he says, referring to the agreement that created Zimbabwe's unity government.

But ZANU PF secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa told the state-controlled Herald newspaper that his party “was geared for election.”

“If they [MDC] do not want elections, they should not participate. Right now we are putting financial resources to use in these elections,” said Mr. Mutasa.

According to the GPA, Zimbabwe can only hold elections if a new constitution endorsed by the people is in place. Among the proposed issues in the draft constitution, the president would be limited to two terms of 10 years, unlike the current scenario where Mugabe has ruled the country for the past 32 years.

The Monitor's correspondent in Harare cannot be named for security reasons.

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