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Snail-pace reforms

by Mufudzi Moyo

Opinion

Awkward coalition: Prime Minister Tsvangirai and President Mugabe

Awkward coalition: Prime Minister Tsvangirai and President Mugabe

For many Zimbabweans, elections are something traumatic – and nobody knows when the next round of voting will take place. It may happen rather soon. By Mufudzi Moyo

In 2008, the nation suffered massive electoral violence. In the end, oppo­sition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai was forced to drop out of the presidential election even though he had won the most votes in its first round, and his party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), had recently prevailed in parliamentary elections. President Robert Mugabe, an authoritarian leader, stayed in office. With the help of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the two politicians negotiated a power-sharing deal, and Tsvangirai became prime minister. Ever since, much has stayed in an awkward limbo.

It is obvious that, to avoid political violence in the future, the country needs comprehensive reforms. Urgent issues include passing a new constitution, cleaning up the voters roll, ending hate speech and political violence, de-politicising the security forces, the judiciary and other state institutions as well as reforming the media. Government bodies have a history of supporting Mugabe and his cronies. Some of the reforms are being implemented, albeit at snail’s pace and not without raising further criticism. The draft constitution was finally submitted in July, after three years of squabbling. It will now be discussed in a popular conference and then be the subject of a referendum.

A number of newspapers have been licensed and re-licensed, but Tsvangirai and his party are still unhappy. The state media continue to spread hate speech and demonise the MDC. At the same time, it portrays Mugabe and his party Zanu PF in favourable terms. New broadcasting licenses were given to institutions linked to Mugabe, and one has already begun broadcasting, replicating the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, a stronghold of Mugabe supporters.

Observers say the voters’ roll con­tinues to include names of dead people and children. Some army commanders still utter statements in favour of the president’s party, raising fears that the security sector remains biased. Though no longer widespread, political violence continues to be reported, and the MDC fears this may spread should the country go to elections without implementing crucial reforms first. The SADC insists that this must happen, and Tsvangirai agrees. In contrast, Mugabe and other Zanu PF leaders have been calling for general elections this year, arguing that the coalition government has failed. This, however, has kept postponing by-elections stating that the nation lacked the money to afford such voting.

Nobody knows for certain what will happen – and when. In July, the Supreme Court ordered the president to declare by-election dates in three constituencies by 30 August. At the moment, 38 parliamentary seats and about 200 local council positions are vacant, mainly due to deaths since the last elections in 2008.

Some Zanu PF officials say they are keen on a “mini general election” by having polls for all vacant seats. For the president’s party, this would amount to a test run for general elections that might take place in March. Other Zanu PF officers have intimated the ruling should be taken advantage of to hold general elections immediately.

The Supreme Court order makes it impossible to tell whether or not the justice system is still siding with Mugabe. Many were surprised that the court ruled against him, but according to a state-run news­paper, that was a case of Zanu PF losing and winning against itself. After all, the party had been calling for elections for a long time. As this comment was being finalised for the September edition of D+C/E+Z, the ball was in Mugabe’s court, with the law only compelling him to announce dates by 30 August and not giving him any timelines.

Parliament recently passed the Electoral Amendment Bill, a product of inter-party talks, designed to make elections free and fair. Among other things, the Bill stipulates that presidential elections results should be announced within five days of voting. In 2008, results were only published after almost one month. The Bill makes sense – but will it be enforced?