17 September 2010

Zimbabwe: Business Says No to Elections

Harare — The Employers Confederation of Zimbabwe (Emcoz), a national grouping of private business leaders, has appealed to principals in the inclusive government to put a five-year moratorium on holding elections in order to consolidate economic recovery and maintain stability in the country, the Zimbabwe Independent has learnt.

The grouping of employers asked President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his deputy Arthur Mutambara not to go ahead with polls slated for next year as the elections could reverse economic gains achieved after the formation of the coalition government.

It is understood that the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) - a social forum of government, business leaders and labour -- met yesterday in the capital and business agreed to deliberate on elections during a Business Council of Zimbabwe (BCZ) meeting scheduled for next week.

Emcoz chairman David Govere told Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe and business leaders attending the launch of a Social Dialogue in Bulawayo recently that holding polls next year was retrogressive.

Govere said Emcoz took this position after the BCZ meeting held on August 30 at Wild Geese restaurant in Harare identified "advocacy issues" to be taken to "relevant authorities".

Zimbabwe's economy grew by 5% last year - the first recorded expansion since 1998 - with analysts expecting a similar increase this year. Capacity utilisation for local industries which had plunged to below 10% at the height of hyperinflation two years ago rose to an average 40% since the formation of the coalition.

Unprecedented inflation levels which experts said soared up to 500 billion percent in 2008 were last year tamed when government adopted the use of multi-currencies.

"As commonly shared, the last 10 years brought so much tension and pain on many to the extent that more resources and time must be allocated to the healing and reconciliation process," Govere said. "This is why as business we appeal to the Prime Minister as a key principal to the GNU to convey our concerns to his counterparts for the extension of the current political stability while business recovers."

He added: "As business we see no need to hurry this process and do not believe that hasty undertakings will deliver the goods. What is on every business person and any citizen's mind right now is economic issues. Economic recovery is the priority and anything else is secondary, that is why this process must be given its necessary and appropriate attention."

Efforts to get comment from Khupe on whether she had taken the appeal to the principals were in vain as she was reported to be outside the country on business.

Emcoz said government should hold elections after creating a "timetable covering between three and five years" during which the country could "consolidate the current and ongoing healing and stabilising actions (which) then ultimately lead to fully democratic elections".

The TNF earlier this year signed the Kadoma Declaration, a pact drafted in 2001 with a view to identifying Zimbabwe's country risk and suggested measures needed by the social partners to improve the country's economic prospects.

Govere said political parties could destabilise business by campaigning for populist policies that could disrupt the prevailing economic conditions.

"Any disruption to the current tranquility will naturally destabilise the deliberations on protocols of the Kadoma Declaration. We saw this in 2007, that as we drove towards the elections, there was an attempt to manipulate the issues in the protocols to give advantage to certain politically motivated constituencies," he said.

The then ruling Zanu PF government in June 2007 embarked on arbitrary price controls that saw several business executives being arrested for charging above stipulated prices. Political analysts expect Zanu PF to use the controversial empowerment regulations -- compelling foreign companies valued at over US$500 000 or more to cede control of their businesses -- as an election trump card.

While business is seeking an extension of the coalition, Mugabe and his longtime political rival Tsvangirai have publicly announced their intention to hold the polls next year in a desperate bid to break the impasse surrounding the full implementation of the inclusive government pact.

Mugabe has become intransigent to MDC demands on the coalition pact, saying he would give in to the erstwhile opposition party only when economic sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union are removed.

An election would end a three-year marriage between Mugabe's Zanu PF and the two MDC formations which business organisations credit for ending the decade-long economic hemorrhage.

The proposed election date has caused conflict in government, with Tsvangirai and Mugabe in favour, while Mutambara opposes it. Finance minister Tendai Biti last week said the poll would strain the fiscus.

Biti last week announced that government needs nearly US$200 million to hold a referendum and the general election. The election budget is US$60 million more than the current government monthly revenue.

Tsvangirai told party supporters in Gokwe at the weekend that he had agreed with Mugabe that no one should challenge the outcome of next year's election.

Mutambara's party this week rubbished Tsvangirai's weekend remarks that the leaders of the inclusive government had agreed on having elections next year.

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