After nearly three years of coalition government, Zimbabwe appears to be back to 2007 – when Zanu-PF wanted elections “next year” (2008) and the opposition MDC did not. The country is now back full cycle, reports Tichaona Zindoga from Harare – Zanu-PF wants elections in 2012, but the two MDC factions say no!
Political and ideological differences have made it difficult for the inclusive government to craft and implement policies – although, it must be said, the inclusive government arrangement which came into effect in February 2009, has brought some socio-economic and political stability.
An example of the gridlock in government is the alleged reluctance by finance minister and MDC-T secretary general Tendai Biti, to support the economic mainstay of the country – agriculture – whose backbone are new farmers who benefitted from the Zanu-PF-led land reform programme – which does not go down well with Zanu-PF, for obvious reasons.
Generally, disagreements – from the civil servants’ salary increment to accounting for diamond revenues and implementing the Global Political Agreement (GPA) that gave birth to the inclusive government – have been the order of the day.
But how the parties are to extricate themselves from the vaunted failed “marriage” has become a big problem. Elections could well be the answer, but even this has become a political football – Zanu-PF on one side, the two MDCs on the other.
During the 2008 GPA negotiations, Zanu-PF wanted the coalition to run for five years, but the MDCs – particularly Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC-T – wanted early elections. Now the roles have changed.
Zanu-PF says elections should be held next year, and accuses the two MDCs of dragging their feet on the ongoing constitution-making process to delay elections. Without a new constitution, elections cannot be held.
In 2008, the parties agreed that elections should be held after a referendum on a new constitution. Yet in his 2012 budget, Finance Minister Biti did not set aside any money for elections in 2012.
Zanu-PF held its annual conference in early December in Bulawayo, at which President Robert Mugabe insisted that “we just have to have elections in 2012”.
To him, the inclusive government is undemocratic as it contains unelected officials. “We actually cheated on democracy but let’s not overdo it,” he said. “The time has come to go for elections and let people choose their government.”
On 8 December, Zanu-PF, fearing that infighting by party stalwarts who want to succeed Mugabe might affect its electoral chances, again elected the 87-year-old leader as presidential candidate for the envisaged elections.
In a two-hour speech after the vote, Mugabe was adamant that elections must be held in 2012. “Both partners [of the inclusive government] have since described the coalition as unworkable, but have differed sharply on the timing of elections,” he told the Zanu-PF faithful. “We are saying we just have to have elections in 2012.”
According to him, the unity government has overstayed its welcome. “Our country does not have an elected government,” he said. “I am president to a political arrangement which is makeshift, undemocratic and illegitimate.”
But the two MDCs are not so persuaded about elections in 2012. They insist that the GPA should be fulfilled to the letter, including the completion of the constitution-making exercise.
Prof Welshman Ncube, a constitutional law expert and leader of the smaller MDC faction, says Zimbabwe faces a choice between a “premature” election and the fulfillment of the GPA.
He contends that even if the country were to produce a constitution in 2012, “the likelihood of being able to hold a referendum and elections in one year is so improbable that it can be dismissed”. As such, he insists, “the process of making a new constitution is far from over …”
With the intervening Christmas holiday season likely to hold back work, Ncube thinks a draft constitution could be available in April or May 2012, and brought before parliament in August, and then before the nation in a referendum between October and November.
If the constitution is adopted, the country’s Electoral Act will have to be amended, and that, Ncube explains, will take another two to three months. At this rate, the constitution will not be ready until 2013.
But, as Ncube says, “these are just technical aspects only, barring disagreements among the parties”.
According to him, there are other aspects of the GPA and election roadmap that have been agreed by the parties, but which will need to be looked at by parliament before any election is held. This includes a land audit whose commission has not even been set up as required by the GPA rules.
Analysts, however, believe that the biggest electoral question revolves around the candidature of President Mugabe. As the Zanu-PF candidate, he stands a good chance of winning the election for the party in 2012.
His MDC rivals, however, hope that age will eventually catch up with him. He will be 88 on 21 February 2012, and they think that old age will finally remove him from the field. Hence, they want to delay the elections as much as possible.
But that could be a forlorn hope. In a wide-ranging interview in June, Mugabe was asked about his health, and his answer was quite revealing:
“The body says what it says it is… The doctors say that I am okay and some are surprised with my bone structure. They say they are the bones of someone who is 40… My age says I am not yet old at 87. My body is saying the counting doesn’t end at 87 – at least you must get to 100.” The rivals may have longer to wait then.