It is almost certain that Zimbabwe will go for elections this year, marking an inauspicious end to a rather difficult term of inclusive government after the signing of the Global Political Agreement signed between the two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and the Zimbabwe African National Union- Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) in September 2008. The paralysis experienced in the government of national unity between the leaders at loggerheads has made the 2011 elections a welcome end to the present interim government for the Zanu- PF. But whether conditions are ripe for elections right now is a matter for much debate in and outside Zimbabwe. This opinion pieces reviews the political debates in Zimbabwe, which have gained momentum following the recent SADC Organ Summit in Zambia.
The debate on the framework: the old or new constitution?
The Global Political Agreement (GPA) signed between the two factions of the MDC and the Zanu-PF, which brought to an end a political stalemate after the disputed elections in 2008, stipulates as its prerequisite for an election that the constitution making process must first be endorsed by parliament and the public through a referendum. Indeed, the process has begun and is reportedly moving slow as parliamentarians synthesize views garnered.
As a result, keen to have an early election and fearing the consequences of the new constitution on its ability to control the electoral process, the Zanu-PF has expressed dissatisfaction with the failure of the unity government to fast track the constitution-making process and to get Western nations to remove sanctions against its leaders as stipulated in the GPA. President Robert Mugabe is now calling for an early election to bring an end to the unity government. His party senses that an early election would favor the Zanu-PF under current conditions as it could easily capitalize on the disunity in the MDC-M after Arthur Mutambara lost to Welshman Ncube in the internal presidential elections. Mugabe refuses to swear Ncube in as vice Prime Minister until Mutambara resigns from his duties.
This view is also shared by war veterans’ leader Joseph Chinotimba, who has openly supported Mugabe's position that the old constitution should be reinstated, according to which Mugabe will remain the only country’s leader and president. This is why the party is pushing for an election as early as June 2011. It also reckons that an early election will restore Zanu-PF’s total control of parliament.
However, it is unlikely that the elections will be held as the environment is not conducive to hold an election. The eruption of violence, allegedly, by the Zanu-PF youth militias also negates the conduciveness of the environment. There are serious concerns that violence might exceed the post-2008 election violence. The road map to elections is yet to be agreed on by all parties concerned.
Tsvangirai and Mutambara have strongly resisted the move to hold elections before a new constitution is adopted. They assume that the constitution that would come out of the public consultations in which the ZANU-PF positioned itself strongly would strengthen the shift of power from the president to the parliament. This is not certain, but it is likely to be the case.
SADC Changing Stance?
The SADC Organ Summit held in Zambia recently took a different much more robust stance on the growing political stalemate and increasing violence in Zimbabwe than has been the case in the past. The Summit declared that :a)there must be an immediate end of violence, intimidation, hate speech, harassment, and any other form of action that contradicts the letter and spirit of GPA; (b) all stakeholders to the GPA should implement all the provisions of the GPA and create a conducive environment for peace, security, and free political activity; (c) the Inclusive Government in Zimbabwe should complete all the steps necessary for the holding of the election including the finalization of the constitutional amendment and the referendum; (d) SADC should assist Zimbabwe to formulate guidelines that will assist in holding an election that will be peaceful, free and fair, in accordance with the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections.
While this has been welcome as a fresh and possibly effective approach by the regional body, the ZANU-PF and President Mugabe have interpreted it as interventionist and therefore a threat to Zimbabwe's national sovereignty. Speaking at a party leadership meeting thereafter, Mugabe decried the fact they were not allowed to see Zuma's report on which the Organ based its decision and that the declaration suggested a departure of SADC's role of facilitation towards intervention. The state media has also ratcheted up its criticism of the robust Organ approach and blamed Zuma for leading this change of tone towards Zimbabwe describing his behavior as “erratic”. The Sunday Mail further stated “the problem with Mr. Zuma now is that his disconcerting behavior has become a huge liability, not only to South Africa but also to the rest of the continent."
At the moment it is not quite clear how this concern on the part of ZANU-PF will affect the mediator’s role in Zimbabwe, whether the party will co-operate now that it finds Zuma as acting inappropriately. Although the party has distanced itself from the insults hurled at Zuma, there is no gainsaying that it is disappointed by the strong Organ position. It senses that this may be the beginning of what it calls a regime change agenda. However, South Africa still has a lot to do in Zimbabwe, as a mediator, to ensure full implementation of the GPA, also to avoid the political climate from deteriorating to pre-unity government conditions.
Road to Elections
The political parties involved may be ready for the elections scheduled for this year, but without the necessary legislation (constitution) in place, electoral and political reforms remain a dream in Zimbabwe. The electoral laws have overtime been used to prevent power transfer in Zimbabwe, thus, rushing to elections will not resolve the problems and challenges facing this country. SADC needs to remain firm and keep the tone it adopted in Zambia to give Zimbabwean confidence in the efficacy of the regional facilitator to help them decide their fate freely. A roadmap on elections should not deviate from the spirit and letter of the GPA including the need for a new constitution, a referendum and an independent electoral authority. Otherwise, Zimbabwe will continue to be a liability for SADC, and the gains achieved by the mediation so far will be reversed.
Zandile Bhengu, is a Research Assistant at the Institute for Global Dialogue
14 April 2011