Mugabe loses grip

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe has made a complete revolution from demanding a 2012 election to begging for a delay, until at least March 2013, revealing his lack of power under the coalition to unilaterally impose his will.

Despite macho public statements declaring that elections would be held this year with or without reforms and consent from other stakeholders, events in recent weeks have unmasked how the veteran ruler is powerless to act unilaterally.

Fighting old age and reports of ill-health, an early election for Mugabe would be ideal when he can still withstand a rigorous campaign trail.

Obstacles being thrown by coalition partners and devastating infighting that has left his Zanu PF ill-prepared for a poll are revealing Mugabe as a man held captive on several fronts.

Starting the year on a virile campaign for elections this year, Mugabe is ending 2012 with a whimper.

His desperate pleas for the courts to delay elections and the hasty manner in which he moved to break a deadlock on the stalled new constitution by agreeing to a Second All-Stakeholders meeting prove Mugabe is hostage to the coalition government and the regional Sadc body, apart from Zanu PF infighting.

Sadc helped negotiate Harare’s fragile administration following disputed elections in 2008.

Mugabe has quickly backed down each time a dispute in the coalition government has been referred to the regional bloc Sadc, the guarantors of the Harare power-sharing deal.

Mugabe’s successive climb downs have given fodder to his rivals that he was prevaricating.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai accuses him of kowtowing to security commanders and his party’s politburo by shifting positions several times on elections.

The MDC leader says despite the posturing, Mugabe has always known that elections will only take place after fundamental reforms have been completed and after securing consensus from all Principals in the ruling coalition.

Mugabe has been demanding elections in 2012, a year ahead of schedule, arguing the coalition government he formed in 2009 with Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara was now “dysfunctional”.

It all started in June 2010, when Mugabe’s Zanu PF posted on its website a statement headlined “Elections inevitable,” saying there was unacceptable friction in the fragile coalition — which Mugabe had said
was like water and oil.

A campaign pushing for fresh elections ostensibly because the coalition’s two-year mandate had expired ensued.

This was outrightly rejected by Tsvangirai and Mutambara, who both said the coalition did not have a sunset clause, forcing Mugabe to back down.

In 2011, Mugabe again insisted elections would be held in early 2012.

“We cannot go beyond March next year,” he told a September 2011 meeting of his Zanu PF. “I will definitely announce that (election) date. It does not matter what anyone would say. Once I announce the date, everyone will follow,” said Mugabe.

How times change.

After spending the whole of 2012 demanding elections, the former guerrilla leader has changed tune and unmasked himself by challenging three former MDC legislators who went to court to force him to proclaim by-election dates in their constituencies.

Agreeing to the former MPs’ demands would have resulted in a mini-general election as there are about 200 vacant parliamentary and municipal seats countrywide.

Mugabe pleaded with the court to grant him more time, saying the earliest he can announce election dates would be in March next year.

Judge President George Chiweshe granted Mugabe’s wish, which is closer to what his coalition partners have insisted on all along — that elections are only possible in 2013.

Cash shortages and pressure from regional bloc Sadc, whose mediation is being led by South Africa president Jacob Zuma, have forced the veteran ruler to reluctantly stick to the deal to ensure free and fair elections and then handover power peacefully if he loses the forthcoming poll.

While earlier Mugabe accused the two MDCs of dragging their feet over a deadlock around the crafting of a new constitution expected to pave way for fresh polls, the veteran ruler has climbed down on that deadlock as well.

He temporarily shelved his demand to make over 200 amendments to a draft constitution seen as whittling down presidential powers and strengthening the role of Parliament.

A mini-regional summit of the Sadc troika organ to resolve the constitutional deadlock was scheduled for Dar es Salaam this weekend in Tanzania, but the meeting was called off after Mugabe hastily climbed down ahead of the summit.

Sadc has already emphasised the need to stage a violence-free All-Stakeholders conference that has been tentatively scheduled for October 21 to 23, according to Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs minister Eric Matinenga.

According to the power-sharing Global Political Agreement, the coalition government must complete the constitutional reform exercise and other important political, security and electoral reforms before going for fresh polls. It is not clear when elections, which Mugabe wants in the last week of March, can be held as the two MDCs say the country will only be ready for fresh polls by June 2013.

Douglas Mwonzora, spokesperson for Tsvangirai’s MDC, said the March date was “unilateral, unrealistic and has no scientific or legal basis”.

“For us to meet those dates, Zanu PF has to change drastically,” he said.

“We want elections to be held in conditions which allow the secrecy of the vote and the security of both the vote and the voter,” said Mwonzora.

Alex Magaisa, a lawyer and academic, currently a senior lecturer at Kent Law School at the University of Kent in the United Kingdom, said it seems there has been a general misreading of the High Court decision and its implications on the timing of next year’s general elections.

“It does not follow that the general elections will be held before the end of March 20,” he said.
“It only means the President must comply with the order by the end of March 2013 and the order is to set dates for the elections. It is important in this regard to note that the process of setting the date for nominations and the polling date in accordance with section 38 of the Electoral Act can take up to 10 weeks. Therefore, the general elections could well be in early June 2013.”

Lovemore Madhuku, head of pressure group National Constitutional Assembly has previously said all this was part of Mugabe’s strategy of managing both the internal dynamics within Zanu PF, and the outside ones, with the MDC, by creating “a sense of uncertainty”. - Gift Phiri

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