'Mugabe election dates impossible'

HARARE - Zimbabwe cannot go for fresh polls in March because there is no money to bankroll a referendum and fresh elections within six months among other reasons, analysts and political parties said yesterday.

The slow pace of electoral and political reforms such as a new constitution and security sector realignment makes it impossible for the country to hold elections by March next year as envisaged by President Robert Mugabe.

The 88-year-old leader has been clamouring for polls to be held this year but is faced with acute budgetary constraints, with his bankrupt administration taking its begging bowl to South Africa and Angola to seek $150 million to plug a hole on the national budget.

On Wednesday, Mugabe declared that polls will be held in March 2013 without explaining where government would get $400 million needed to fund polls and a referendum. He also did not explain how the political obstacles affecting the ongoing constitutional process will be overcome.

Mugabe made the revelations in a High Court suit in which he is being sued for failing to call a mini-general election in several vacant constituencies.

Douglas Mwonzora, spokesperson for Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC said the issue is not about election dates but circumstances.

“The issue with the MDC is not so much about the date for elections but the circumstances under which these elections will be held,” Mwonzora told the Daily News.

“We want free and fair elections, therefore key reforms must be met before elections and one of that is a new constitution, security sector realignment and equal access to media by all parties.”

Mwonzora said it was “unrealistic” for elections to be held early next year as Mugabe’s party Zanu PF has already delayed the key constitution-making process that must lead to fresh polls.

The MDC spokesperson, who is also co-chairperson of the Constitutional Parliamentary Committee (Copac) — the body mandated with writing a new constitution — said it is impossible to predict a referendum by November, not only because of financial constraints but also because there are numerous stages that have to be met before a referendum.

The financially-crippled government has already postponed the critical Second All-Stakeholders Conference from October 4 to the last week of October because of cash challenges.

“I don’t think that the referendum can be done in November. There is the all-stakeholders meeting, publication and also debating in Parliament. Zanu PF is well-known for saying the impossible,” said Mwonzora.

“Mugabe cannot set the election date alone. He has to do that in consultation with the Prime Minister.”

Under the GPA, Mugabe should act in consultation with the Prime Minister when making critical decisions.

Sadc, the guarantors of the GPA, have given Zimbabwe a time frame to implement reforms that would ensure a free and fair election.

The reforms include finalisation of a new constitution, media, political and electoral reforms, and also national healing, security sector re-alignment and other critical reforms.

Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo said his party is ready for elections and rejected charges that it is blocking electoral and security sector reforms.

“We are always prepared for elections. And yes, the constitution would have been completed by that date because that is what is there,” said Gumbo.

Qhubani Moyo, policy director of the Welshman Ncube-led MDC said elections are only feasible by June next year.

“First, we need to ensure that conditions that will allow for free and fair elections are met,” he said.

“While it is important for Mugabe to comply with the court order, this however, should not allow for shortcuts. For us, elections are due end of June and we need to allow the reforms to be implemented before elections,” added Moyo.

Tendai Biti, minister of Finance, who has to plug a $400 million deficit in Zimbabwe’s budget for this year after diamond mining firms operating in Marange failed to provide government with an expected income of $600 million, has reiterated that Treasury cannot afford to fund a general election any time soon.

In terms of Section 63 (4) of the Constitution, “Parliament, unless sooner dissolved, shall last for five years, which period shall be deemed to commence on the day the person elected as president enters office after an election … and shall then stand dissolved.”

This means the term of Parliament is linked to the president’s tenure.

Mugabe was sworn in on June 29, 2008, which means Parliament’s term expires on June 29, 2013.

Okay Machisa, Zimrights director said Zimbabwe is far from meeting conditions that would guarantee free and fair elections.

“We are still far away from achieving any reform that would warrant the holding of elections,” he said.

“Mugabe has been clamouring for polls since 2009 and this is not new to some of us. We want tangible reforms that include a new constitution; we want media reforms and security sector reforms so that the security of a person is ensured.

“These politicians should stop talking about elections and concentrate on the reform agenda. We want free and fair elections that are acceptable to the international community and the democratic society,” said Machisa.

He said it was better that Zimbabwe goes for an “imperfect election that will create a new environment for political discourse and hopefully with different actors following the 2013 elections.” - Fungi Kwaramba and Xolisani Ncube

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