Is Zimbabwe ready for elections?

HARARE - Four years after Zimbabwe had one of its bloodiest polls since independence in 1980 — political tensions are mounting and the shadows of the past have returned yet again to haunt ordinary civilians.

In what many see as a flashback to the horrors of Zimbabwe’s violent 2008 elections, an innocent 12-year-old schoolboy was this month burnt beyond recognition as he slept.

The chilling death of an innocent soul in Headlands, Manicaland province has left many reeling.

And everyone is now asking; “Is the country ready to deliver a free and fair poll?”

At the burial of Christpower Maisiri, the unfortunate 12-year-old boy, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai promised Zimbabweans that he would not be “part and parcel” of a violent election.

The MDC leader, who is in a power-sharing government with his bitter political rival President Robert Mugabe, told distraught villagers that he will use everything in his power to ensure that polls would be violent-free.

“I will not be part and parcel to a process that subverts the will of people. I will do everything in my power to ensure a violent-free election,” said Tsvangirai.

Following the violent 2008 presidential run-off, a power-sharing government was eventually formed in February 2009 between Mugabe’s Zanu PF, Tsvangirai’s MDC and the other MDC formation led by Industry and Commerce minister Welshman Ncube. By then a number of people had been killed while thousands had lost their homes.

It took the intervention of the regional body Sadc and the African Union (AU) to steer Tsvangirai and Mugabe into a coalition.

But according to the smaller MDC formation leader Ncube, Tsvangirai has gotten so cosy with Mugabe and forgot the past.

“The problem that is confronting us as former opposition parties is that we say to ourselves we failed in the past because we did not respect Mugabe. The in-thing these days is respect Mugabe and he will do the right thing,” said Ncube.

Ncube said the MDC seems to be pre-occupied with the sailing through of a “Yes” vote in the March 16 referendum. Both Mugabe and Tsvangirai, who lead the largest political parties in the country, are agreed on a “Yes’ vote.

At the burial of the 12 year-old-boy, who was supposed to be doing grade seven but only in Grade Four because of the ripple effects of violence, Tsvangirai urged his supporters to vote “Yes” for the constitution saying doing this would ensure perpetrators of violence are brought to book.

The draft constitution among other things establishes an independent Prosecuting Authority and also establishes a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Efforts to bring to book those responsible for past atrocities such as rape and murder of MDC supporters in 2008 have been thwarted.

An envisaged land audit and security sector reforms also came to naught.

Ncube says the reigniting of violence by Zanu PF is an attempt to ensure that the two MDC formations focus on violence and ignore issues that would decide polls such as the threat posed by security commanders who are on record threatening to subvert the will of the people — if a person without liberation war credentials wins polls.

“It favours Zanu PF to go to elections without implementing the Global Political Agreement (GPA, and an election roadmap. There is little evidence to show that security chiefs are ready to accept the will of the people,” said Ncube during an interface with civil society last week.

One of the failures of the coalition government whether by omission or commission has been failure to deal with the issue of violence — as militias such as the Zanu PF-linked militia group Chipangano and war veterans continue on a warpath.

The mere relief that accompanied the arrival of a “unity” government that ended run-away inflation and also gave the much sought relief from either political violence or economic and social hardships has given Mugabe’s coalition partners a false sense of security, analysts say.

The truth is that thousands of people who watched mothers and sisters being raped or lost limbs in 2008 are still scared and scarred.

Civil Society Organisations (CSO) which are currently under siege from the hybrid government have already warned that the country’s looming polls would be bloody unless if culprits burning homes and intimidating villagers are brought to book.

An Organ of National Healing and Reconciliation formed at the inception of the GNU has been a paper tiger that does not have teeth as it lacks a legal foundation.

Wounded and limping towards a crucial poll, whose dates are still hazy, supporters from both Zanu PF and MDC are upbeat that their respective parties will win the watershed elections.

Three opinion polls have put Mugabe and Tsvangirai neck to neck with the Zanu PF leader edging his younger opponent by a mere percentage at 33, thus setting the stage for a potentially explosive battle.

No doubt memories of 2008 will overshadow the impending poll which though still faraway is sure to come sooner than later.

As the spectre of defeat dawns on incumbent parliamentarians, the simmering violence may mutate from being a fairly containable irritant to something that would again require the intervention of Sadc.

The two MDC formations are upbeat that since there are now in government and can confront their Zanu PF counterparts who sponsor and fan violence, things could change for the better.

The MDC have bargaining chips which they did not have in 2008 when they were mere spectators.

Using its position in government, the MDC has already launched an offensive across the region to appraise the regional leaders of the volatile situation about to unravel — unless if they take a firm line.

Botswana President Ian Khama has already said he doubts a free and fair poll in the status quo and many hope that South African President Jacob Zuma who has taken a firm line with Mugabe since he became the regional mediator will take a firm stance and push his neighbour to implement reforms and accept electoral defeat if he loses.

The MDC formations say Sadc will decide the environment for polls.

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