Elections by June: Sadc

HARARE - Zimbabwe must go for fresh elections by June next year, South Africa’s top foreign chief said yesterday sparking a battle with President Robert Mugabe who is escalating his push for a March 2013 poll.

Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, South Africa's minister of International Relations and Cooperation, said President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Welshman Ncube, leader of the smaller MDC, have all reaffirmed to President Jacob Zuma that the coalition government had a June 2013 sunset clause.

Zuma is the mediator in the Zimbabwean political crisis and speaks on behalf Sadc.

Zimbabwean leaders must proclaim election dates by June next year once conditions on the ground are ripe for a fair contest.

She spoke as Mugabe reiterated his demand for a March 2013 election timetable at the opening of the fifth and final session of the seventh Parliament in Harare on Tuesday.

Zimbabwe's main political parties have disagreed on the poll timetable, with the two ruling MDCs insisting on a June poll and demanding full implementation of a road map mediated by regional grouping Sadc.

Sadc, which appointed Zuma as mediator to Zimbabwe’s political negotiations, is heavily influential in the country’s politics because it brokered and guaranteed the power sharing Global Political Agreement (GPA).

The internal contradictions at the heart of the coalition, latent from the start, are now beginning to emerge in full public view as the country hurtles towards a fresh election.

The rivals turned “unity” government partners, have so far failed to agree terms under which the election roadmap and GPA can be fully implemented.

The three are under pressure from Sadc, which wants them to hammer out a final agreement and implement the GPA instruments in time for elections.

"We should start here, we should say that all political parties in Zimbabwe have agreed that their mandate will end, the one of the Global Political Agreement that gave birth to this government, the inclusive government, end by end of June next year," Nkoana-Mashabane told South Africa TV station eNCA.

"So working backwards, from 30th of June (2013) to where we are sitting today, they should have gone through a referendum for a new constitution and they should go through elections.

The details of how they agree on the dates will better be dealt with by the Zimbabweans.

"South Africa will continue supporting them under the leadership of President Zuma as a facilitator on behalf of Sadc, Sadc that remains the guarantor that will take and has always been there to support the processes, the political processes of the implementation of the GPA from the time that this government came in, to the end of its mandate in June 2013."

Nkoana-Mashabane's statements puts Zuma on a collision course with the recalcitrant Zimbabwean leader, who has emphasised that he will not take foreign dictation on Zimbabwean electoral processes, even though he has backed down each time a dispute has been referred to the facilitator.

While Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba was not picking up his mobile phone when we called, Zanu PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo told the Daily News: “The South Africa government does not tell us what to do.

The position of the President stands that elections will be in March. No outside interference will be tolerated and we do not expect South Africa to do that.”

Mugabe insists elections will be in March, but an independent election monitoring group has warned it will be "impossible" for the polls to be free and fair.

"The main objective remains holding of elections in March next year under a new constitution," Mugabe told Parliament.

He said a referendum on a draft constitution expected to be a cornerstone of the effort to correct longstanding imbalances of power and prevent the kind of upheaval that followed deeply flawed elections in 2008, will be held next month.

"Should the people express their affirmation of the draft in the referendum, then Parliament will pass it as the new law of Zimbabwe," Mugabe said.

Independent elections watchdog, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network has warned in a statement that "logistically it is impossible" to meet this timetable.

The ramifications of a chaotic election cannot be overstated, government officials say.

Finance minister Tendai Biti has warned that a violent election could see the country losing up to eight percent of the gross domestic product for the next five years.

The struggling southern African country's mainstay agriculture industry has suffered badly from the years of turmoil, and foreign companies have been wary of committing to investment in its abundant mineral reserves.

Mugabe was forced to share power after losing elections in March 2008 amid a severe economic crisis blamed on his mismanagement. He blames the economic problems on sanctions imposed by Western countries.

But even as the economy stutters, an increasingly confident Mugabe says the coalition has become "dysfunctional" and wants to race through a referendum and general elections while his approval ratings are still high. - Gift Phiri

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