Delay in poll date stalls observer mission

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe is delaying announcing poll dates to forestall the early arrival of foreign observers expected to monitor the forthcoming general election, analysts have said.

The octogenarian, facing his greatest challenge in 33 years, has been accused by the international community of trying to rig the southern African country’s forthcoming watershed presidential election.

Academics and experts in governance, political economy, constitutional law and elections led a critical one-day think tank process in Bulawayo over the weekend meant to prepare civil society interventions in the referendum and the next election.

The analysts expressed worry that the hold-up in announcement of poll dates will have a bearing on the arrival of observer teams in Zimbabwe before the election.

Trevor Maisiri, International Crisis Group (ICG) senior analyst for Southern Africa, argued that the delay would eventually lead to late observation of the forthcoming elections with far reaching consequences for Zimbabwe.

“There is need to ask the parent guarantor AU (African Union) to send an early assessment mission ahead of the next elections to assess readiness of Zimbabwe for those elections,” Maisiri said.

In previous elections, there has been careful cherry-picking of foreign delegations permitted to observe the conduct of the election campaign and the count.

The Foreign minister has previously invited observers only from countries that have either openly supported the ruling Zanu PF or have maintained silence about the country’s prolonged political and human rights crisis.

Maisiri said it was impossible to think of a new Zimbabwe without taking into account the stakes of the military.

He said the Zimbabwean military top hierarchy had hijacked efforts by Sadc to achieve security reform in Zimbabwe through a process of peer talk with other military bosses in the region.

Panellists said there was need to improve military and civil relations.

Ibbo Mandaza, executive director of Sapes Trust and publisher, argued there had been an “over-exaggeration” of the military factor in the democratisation agenda.

Mandaza rubbished the threats by the military that they would upset the constitutional order should someone who did not take part in the armed liberation war wins the forthcoming election.

“The military has always been subservient to civilians since Rhodesian days,” Mandaza said.

Zanu PF’s opposition has expressed alarm at statements made by generals — the real power behind Mugabe — that they would not tolerate a win by anyone without liberation war credentials.

Analysts expressed concern at the potential impact of partisan natural resource governance on the forthcoming elections.

Mugabe is unveiling a cocktail of empowerment strategies to fight Zimbabwe’s most tightly contested presidential election in more than a decade.

Styling himself as a champion of the poor, Mugabe is working on increasing access to wealth for many of Zimbabwe’s disadvantaged in a re-election drive his party says “has the capacity to appeal to electorate in a massive way”.

“Zanu PF has used empowerment as an instrument of patronage, and to increase its political base,” said Brian Raftopoulous former University of Zimbabwe’s Institute of Development Studies associate professor.

The think tank meeting is expected to leverage the efforts of pro-democracy forces ahead of the election expected in 2013. - Gift Phiri, Political Editor

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