10 February 2011

Zimbabwe: Mugabe in GNU Tight Corner

Photo: IRIN
President Robert Mugabe.

Harare — PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is in a tight spot over the controversial lifespan of the government of national unity, which he purports ends today, as other political parties and senior members of his Zanu PF party say there is no "sunset clause" terminating the troubled coalition's duration.

This comes as Zanu PF continues to plot how to collapse the inclusive government to force early elections.

The party has been variously claiming, amid contradictory statements from its top officials, that the inclusive government ends today. It has also been desperately trying to paint a picture that the government is dysfunctional and that the constitution-making process is not necessarily connected to the elections.

Mugabe has been openly trying to set the agenda by making declarations that he could call for elections unilaterally if the current inclusive government processes collapse.

As part of the elections drive, Mugabe has been going around stating that the inclusive government, whose two other principals, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and deputy prime minister Arthur Mutambara, were sworn-in on February 11 2009, ends today.

Mugabe last October said elections would be held by mid this year because the inclusive government could not be extended by more than six months after its expiry this month.

"The constitution-making process has to be accelerated because the life of this creature (inclusive government) is only two years. It started in February last year (2009), it must end. It would have lived its full life and it will not be extended by more than six months or a year," he told the Zanu PF youth conference in October last year.

Just three weeks ago Mugabe told journalists on arrival from Singapore after his annual leave that he will use his power to dissolve parliament if parties do not reach a consensus over a new constitution.

"The inclusive government was not meant to be a permanent establishment and if there is no consensus or political agreement to come up with a new constitution, I have the constitutional right to dissolve parliament and call for elections," he said.

However, Tsvangirai and his MDC-T party say Mugabe's claims were unfounded as they had no "political and legal basis" in terms of the Global Political Agreement.

Informed sources said Tsvangirai yesterday wanted to issue a statement on his own clarifying the issue but decided to seek an urgent meeting with Mugabe so that they could discuss the issue and make a collective announcement on the matter.

"Tsvangirai is making frantic efforts to meet with Mugabe so that they can jointly issue a statement clarifying the issue. He wants the principals to speak with one voice saying the inclusive government does not expire tomorrow as some say," a senior government official said.

"The prime minister says the GPA does not place a timeframe on the duration of the inclusive government and there is no political or legal basis to claim it ends today or anytime this month."

MDC-T spokesperson Nelson Chamisa said there was no time limit given in the GPA.

"The GPA does not have a sunset clause. Not a single page nor clause of the GPA speaks to the gestation period of the GPA being two years," he said. "Two years is only mentioned by way of referring to clauses...instead of a termination clause, we have two review mechanisms."

MDC-N leader Welshman Ncube also said it was "not correct" to say the inclusive government ends today. He said the GPA does not say that but envisages the end of the coalition government upon the completion of the constitution-making process and collective announcement of the election timeframes.

To demonstrate confusion in Zanu PF over the issue, party spokesperson Rugare Gumbo tried to assist Mugabe to wriggle out of his remarks, saying the president was not categorical on the issue.

"There was a lot of bickering between the parties, that is why the president said he was very uncomfortable with the GNU and that obviously we cannot allow the agreement to be extended more than it is welcomed," he said adding that: "But the president did not state categorically that it will end in February. The position of the party is that we are fed up with the GNU."

Gumbo said it was, however, up to the principals to decide. A senior Zanu PF hardliner yesterday that said there was no lifespan of the GNU in the GPA. "If the truth be told, there is no timeframe in the GPA," he said.

The official said what was happening now was a contradiction of what happened during negotiations when Zanu PF wanted the GNU lifespan to be five years, but MDC-T demanded that it should be at most two years.

"At the negotiations, Zanu PF wanted it to run for five years and MDC wanted a sunset clause at most of two years. Zanu PF said no to a two year sunset clause. Zanu PF didn't want the timeframe and MDC now wants today what Zanu PF wanted then. After enjoying being in power, MDC now has Zanu PF's position and Zanu PF has MDC's position," he said.

The official said although the GNU could continue to exist until the dissolution of parliament in 2013 after its five-year lifespan, the president could call for an election within that period.

"Dissolution of government can come around the dissolution of parliament and until an election when there is a new government," he said.

"The government structure now is that the GPA is the executive authority in the country. The authority will subsist until an election. Since the executive is a GPA government it can still go for an election in August or whenever.

"The president is compelled to the GPA until elections. There cannot be a vacuum. The same president can also insist on six months, if he feels awkward - he can also tell you that. Elections will give legitimacy to the executive authority. "

Mugabe's spokesperson George Charamba yesterday said journalists were confusing the lifespan of the GNU and the call for elections to legitimise the government.

"Political time is quite different from newsroom time. In politics, two years can arrive six months later. Indeed, the president has already intimated that he has no problem in extending the life of the GPA by six months at most," he said.

"People are confusing the lifespan of the GNU and future elections - they are not linked. Are the principals not meeting - are they not talking? The issue of the GPA was not on the cabinet agenda when it met on Tuesday - therefore no one feels their work is about to be abridged. "

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