Vote buying — Mugabe moves a gear up

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe’s campaign trail has taken a familiar take, one which usually creeps up just as elections are around the corner.

He has doled out land, computers, food and other goodies in the past to win over an electorate growingly sceptical of his three decade rule, if results of recent elections are anything to go by.

At the weekend, he rolled into gear one of his most favourite vote buying instruments — agricultural inputs.

At the launch, Mugabe said the presidential well-wishers’ spe-cial Agricultural Inputs Scheme would benefit Zimbabweans irrespective of political affiliation.

Close to one million households are expected to benefit from free seed and fertilisers and Mugabe says the timing is right given that the main summer cropping season has begun and many farmers are hard up for finance.

Yet, one could not help noticing the farming season (October-April) is right in the storm of the election period.

Mugabe is insisting that elections, most likely to be his last, should be held in March next year.

His coalition partners want them pushed further but no later than June the same year.

The choice of venue for the launch of the presidential scheme also let the cat out of the bag.

Party bigwigs gathered at the Zanu PF headquarters on Saturday to witness the launch, raising questions about the impartiality of the $20 million scheme.

Such schemes have in the past been used as bait to lure supporters reminding them on how to vote in the next election.

At the launch ceremony, Mugabe could not resist the temptation of reminding Zanu PF MPs gathered for the launch and would-be beneficiaries of the scheme that “whether we have a new constitution or not, the elections will come in March next year”.

“So prepare yourself for those elections,” he said.

The 88-year-old veteran politician took the opportunity to remind his audience that Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC party was the real enemy of the revival of the agricultural sector.

He launched an attack on Finance minister Tendai Biti, a Tsvangirai appointee, whom he accused of sabotaging farmers.

“This animal (Coalition government) wants to eat, but when we say the food comes from farming, the other side (MDC) says they are inca-pable. But the Zanu PF side continues to say we should farm, we should get inputs. How is this animal supposed to survive? How is the nation supposed to survive? Are you (MDC) not getting this message?” said Mugabe.

“They say we do not have money. They are the ones in charge of the Finance ministry? A gov-ernment can dare not say we have no money to give people to grow food for the country. We cannot say that. We must have the capacity even to borrow. No government does without borrowing from others,” he said.

Several organisations such as the Zimbabwe Peace Project have constantly reported that programmes such as the inputs scheme are tainted by politicisation.

Mugabe drew fertiliser companies into the political whirlwind, accusing them of following Biti’s lead.

“The fertiliser pro-ducers do not have the fertilisers (and) it is not because they are failing to produce the fertiliser, but they have folded their arms say-ing the govern-ment should first pay for sup-plies that we gave it last year,” he said.

Government is believed to owe fertiliser companies $50 million but Biti recently said he had disbursed $20 million to fertiliser and seed companies adding that the debt will be cleared before the announcement of the 2013 budget proposals scheduled for mid-month. - Wendy Muperi

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