Zimbabwe: Why elections are unlikely in 2013

By IndepthAfrica
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Dec 21st, 2012
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Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe supporters are seen at the celebrations of his 88th Birthday celebrations in Mutare, Zimbabwe, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2012, about 300 kilometres east of the capital Harare.  Mugabe who turned 88 on the 21st of February, becomes one of the oldest African leaders and is set to contest in upcoming Presidential elections in the country.(AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe supporters are seen at the celebrations of his 88th Birthday celebrations in Mutare, Zimbabwe, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2012, about 300 kilometres east of the capital Harare. Mugabe who turned 88 on the 21st of February, becomes one of the oldest African leaders and is set to contest in upcoming Presidential elections in the country.(AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

By Ibbo Mandaza, theindependent
The expectation ever since the inauguration of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) on September 15, 2008 and its Government of National Unity (GNU) on February 14, 2009 that harmonised elections would be held sooner rather than later, has been integral to the Zimbabwean political psyche.

Yet it is also an expectation that has become increasingly illusive, even as the political leadership — particularly President Robert Mugabe — vows, annually since 2009, that elections will be held with or without a new constitution.

So, if nothing appears certain about the date of the next election it is, regrettably, also this political uncertainty, generated by such endless talk about an event that should otherwise restore confidence about the future of Zimbabwe, which constitutes a major drag on an economy which saw phenomenal growth of over 9,5% in 2009, but now stalling to well below 5% in 2012.

The media in particular, but also academic analyses in general, have failed so far to probe behind the political rhetoric that has become a unique feature of Zimbabwean society, so as to identify and explore the dynamics and realities that might inhere a better tomorrow.

At the outlet, therefore, are at least four reasons why there will be no harmonised elections in 2013: three of these relate to the processes antecedent to such elections; and the fourth concerns Zimbabwe’s crisis of succession which cannot be resolved by a poll but through a Transitional Mechanism until the country is ready for a meaningful contest.

All this notwithstanding Mugabe’s recent assertions: in October, that elections will be held by March 2013, “with or without a new constitution”; at the opening of parliament on November 15, that the nation must prepare for the event in 2013; and finally, at the Zanu PF national conference on December 9, his threat that he could at any time dissolve parliament and announce the date of the election in 2013.

First, and most obvious, the fading time-line to 2013: the referendum on the draft constitution, an event that should have come and gone in October or November this year, is now more likely in May or June than February or March 2013; and excluding the other three factors to be outlined herein as rendering elections not possible in 2013, the earliest they could be held in October 2013, that is within four months of the dissolution of parliament on June 29, 2013, the latter being the date of the so-called “automatic dissolution” after five years since the last harmonised elections in March 2008.

Second, and less obvious given the dust generated by political rhetoric and even euphoria about a constitution-making exercise now almost complete, is the process likely to be as long-drawn out as was the case in Kenya where it has taken almost two years of synchronising the old laws with the new constitution.

The constitutional lawyers on both sides (Zanu PF and MDCs) of the political spectrum are acutely aware of this requirement as part and parcel of any constitution-making exercise, but dare not speak out loud on it, for fear of being labelled saboteurs of an election mode which, by the look of things, is unable to convert itself into the required frenzy.

Behind the scenes, however, there are those quiet murmurs of acknowledgement: a Zanu PF big wig thinks at least six months will be required to synchronise the current laws with the new constitution; and an MDC-T counterpart, who has just returned from a visit to Kenya, is convinced the process will exceed 18 months, at best!

Third, and always to be remembered, are the principles which have become virtual gospel in Sadc’s mediation of the GPA, as highlighted by the Sadc Troika on December 9, 2012, almost as if to challenge Mugabe’s assertions at the Zanu PF’s conference in Gweru on the same day: namely, that there can be no elections until a referendum on the draft constitution and the completion of the reform agenda as stipulated by the GPA and its related road map.

Admittedly, the debate on what constitutes the “minimum conditions” for “free and fair elections” has become confused and even open-ended as the GPA itself has unfolded and as the MDC is almost hand-in-glove with Zanu PF in the state.

Now, depending on the political occasion, the MDC-T in particular vacillates between an almost religious adherence to the demand for reforms as a precondition for elections, and an acceptance of Mugabe’s gauntlet for polls in 2013.

The question is whether MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai, and Welshman Ncube (MDC-N), too, will join Mugabe and Zanu PF in defying Sadc over a principle that is the cornerstone of the GPA and therefore the raison d’etre of the mediation exercise, or convince South Africa and the regional body that all is clear for free and fair elections in 2013.

My bet is that the MDC as a whole will err on the side of caution, choosing, in the final analysis, to play it safe in the arms of Sadc and South Africa in particular, for fear of a repeat of 2008.

In which case, Mugabe’s threat of going ahead with elections, with or without a new constitution and related reforms, can at best be a lame one, not least because the old man is hardly in a position to spoil for a fight against his own regional body, a re-elected President Jacob Zuma (pictured left), and an international community he has already begun to court and re-engage as part of his legacy-building in the final years of a long but tumultuous political career.

And this is precisely the fourth point I wish to highlight, namely, that Mugabe cannot possibly reconcile an election agenda in 2013, with all its potential for a bruising campaign and violence on the one hand, and, on the other, the need to leave behind him a legacy at least favourable enough to redeem some of those unsavoury parts of his political life, while simultaneously bequeathing Zimbabwe a new constitution, a peaceful transition from his era to the

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