11 July 2012

Zimbabwe: Mugabe Decides On Polls

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is expected to sit with his inner circle to come up with a decisive decision on the holding of general elections that ZANU-PF is pushing for this year as it increasingly appears that time is fast running out for the party to enforce its resolution reached at the December 2011 conference.

This follows hard on the heels of attempts by ZANU-PF to implement token reforms in order to appease the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which has signalled that it would not endorse an electoral process held in the absence of a political environment necessary for an uncontested poll outcome.

ZANU-PF is desperate for a poll this year, with senior party members confident that an election this year would deliver victory against its main rival, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) amid concerns associated with its candidate's age and health.

This week, Patrick Chinamasa, the Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, finally steered the Electoral Amendment Bill through Parliament after much dithering amid indications that it would be among a number of piecemeal reforms ZANU-PF would allow before the holding of fresh elections.

Apart from the elections law, the constitutional draft is currently before the Constitution Parliamentary Select Committee's management committee, which is expected to hand it to the principals in the inclusive government.

ZANU-PF's plans for polls this year are being opposed by both formations of the MDC, with South African President Jacob Zuma, the facilitator of the local dialogue, insisting polls can only be held after full scale reforms.

ZANU-PF recently scrapped its District Coordinating Committees as it moves to centralise power because of divisions that had proved to be a setback to its electoral plans.

However, ZANU-PF, with the support of Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, one of the country's principals, insists SADC or Zuma cannot dictate the local political process as the buck stops with Zimbabweans.

On Tuesday, ZANU-PF national chairperson Simon Khaya-Moyo told The Financial Gazette that President Mugabe would sit in due course with either the presidium or the party's Politburo to map the way forward.

"The nation cannot continue to be held to ransom. They should have handed the draft constitution to the principals. Elections are long overdue. SADC said they should be held within 12 months and within 12 months can mean tomorrow," said Khaya-Moyo.

Sources this week said ZANU-PF had decided to implement some of the agreed reforms such as electoral laws to project a modicum of movement in the political processes in the eyes of SADC.

As part of those plans, on Tuesday, Chinamasa exposed ZANU-PF's plans to rush the polls when he sought and was granted permission to fast track the Electoral Amendment Bill through Parliament; by among others ensuring that the House of Assembly also sits tomorrow.

Parliament normally sits on Tue-sdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. This would be the first time this year when it would sit on a Friday.

Chinamasa also moved that Parliamentary regulations in relation to reports from the Parlia-mentary Legal Committee (PLC) and the stages of Bills, be suspended in respect of the proposed electoral law and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Bill as part of efforts to ensure that the Bill becomes law as soon as possible to facilitate for fresh elections.

The PLC rules on the constitutionality of all laws that pass through Parliament and the suspension of regulations removes any delays to Chinamasa's plans.

The Justice Minister told lawmakers that some of the changes to the country's voting laws are of historical significance and had been arrived at after a Cabinet committee made up of the forum of the six negotiators in the inter-party dialogue met on several occasions over a period of nearly two years to consider the issue.

Among others, the electoral Bill, as outlined by Chinamasa, provides for the outcome of presidential elections to be announced within five days and re-enacts Presidential Powers Regulations for purposes of restoring police officers to polling stations, with a provision that makes it clear that law enforcement agents at a polling station should not take part or interfere with the electoral process.

The Bill also entrenches the outlawing of postal voting by Zimbabweans domiciled in foreign lands, save for those on national duty.

In relation to the issue of violence, the proposed law establishes a special body to receive complaints or allegations of politically motivated acts of violence and to monitor and to carry out investigations of such reports and to refer them to the police.

It also provides that upon conviction by special courts for violence, a special order banning candidates from further participation in the election process may be issued.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Com-mission (ZEC), which is chaired by retired judge justice Simpson Mutambanengwe, is to be empowered to summon candidates, election agents or political parties against whom allegations of violence would have been made.

The Bill also empowers ZEC to warn candidates, election agents or political parties against acts of violence perpetrated on their behalf by their supporters.

"Presidential Run-Off: We noted a glaring omission in the cross referencing of the Second Schedule to Section 110 of the Electoral Act and have agreed to amend Section 110. The bill also provides that the Proclamation dissolving Parliament and setting the date of elections should allow for the eventuality of a Run-Off by fixing a date of the Run-Off," said Chinamasa.

But as President Mugabe is set to meet his trusted lieutenants on the poll issue, it is not clear whether events on the ground would allow then to continue sticking with their plans or stage a climb-down to allow the process to spill into next year.

Last month, Mutambara told lawmakers that Zimbabweans should live with the prospect of an election being held this year. The deputy premier said the Global Political Agreement is a bad agreement as it cannot force consensus and there is no provision for arbitration allowing any party to walk away if there is a deadlock, opening the way for polls this year.

"It is possible, at least theoretically, from what I have described to finish all the reforms and road map this year 2012. Hypothetically, we can identify all the processes required and put timelines to them, two months, a month, etc. and say we will be done in five months. Meaning five months from June, we are ready for elections in November. This means it is possible to have elections with reforms this year, 2012," said Mutambara.

"So, hypothetically you could say everything requires five months, and then you can go to an election in November 2012. It is possible within the SADC recommendations from the Troika of 1st June 2012, to have elections with reforms this year. Someone might not like this scenario but I am not here to please anyone, but to carry out informed analysis."

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