Zimbabwe: Mugabe Backtracks On Early Elections

Harare — PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has softened his stance on holding early elections after it became apparent that it is not possible for polls to take place in March next year, it has emerged.

Mugabe has been vowing to call for elections next March with or without a new constitution.

He threatened at the recently-ended Zanu PF conference in Gweru to dissolve Parliament and set election dates if the constitution-making process was not concluded soon. But sources close to Mugabe said the 88-year-old leader was now agreeable to holding elections by end of June and not later than that.

"He [Mugabe] is going to compromise a little bit on the election dates," said a senior government official.

"Of late he is no longer talking of a March date after realising that it has become practically impossible to hold early elections, even if there was no issue of writing a new constitution."

The official said there were a lot of things which still needed to be concluded, including the draft constitution, referendum, funding and clean-up of the voters roll.

Pressure from GPA partners and other regional leaders was also making it difficult for Mugabe to unilaterally declare early elections.

A senior Zanu PF official said the party's politburo was likely to meet in a few weeks' time to confirm the proposed dates and decide on the future of the constitution-making process.

The official said the party was of the view that the constitution-making process was going nowhere.

"We don't see this process succeeding," the Zanu PF official said.

"We think it is better for the party which wins the elections to complete the constitution-making process, otherwise we are going nowhere because of the fundamental differences between us and the MDCs."

However, Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo told The Standard yesterday that elections would be held in March.

"Nothing has changed as far as the party is concerned. We still stick to what we said, that elections will be held in March," he said.

Gumbo said once the coalition partners agreed on a new constitution by the December 25 deadline set by his party, everything necessary to hold elections would start flowing.

The Zanu PF conference in Gweru directed the GPA parties to conclude the constitution-making process before Christmas this year.

The party resolved that failure to do that, Mugabe should in terms of the law, issue the relevant proclamation dissolving Parliament and fixing a date for the holding of the harmonised elections under the current constitution.

Zanu PF is desperate to hold early elections because their candidate, who turns 89 in two months' time, may be getting too old to campaign. But plans by Zanu PF to hold elections before the implementation of reforms are likely to face hurdles from Sadc.

Leaders from the region recently met in Tanzania for an extra-ordinary summit and insisted on the full implementation of the GPA, including a new constitution, before the country could hold elections.

Poll dates difficult to tell: Chinamasa

The two MDCs have also maintained that elections should be held after the implementation of an agreed elections roadmap, media, security sector and other democratic reforms.

Zanu PF chief negotiator and Justice and legal affairs minister, Patrick Chinamasa, on Friday said it was difficult to determine when a referendum on a new constitution and elections would be held.

"Everything depends on the finalisation of the constitution-making process, so we cannot determine when the referendum and elections will be held," he said.

Chinamasa said a voter registration blitz would begin on January 3, marking the official preparations for the watershed elections.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) requires a total of US$192 million to hold both the referendum and elections.

Chinamasa said it was the responsibility of Finance minister, Tendai Biti of MDC-T, to ensure that the funds are raised as a matter of urgency to avoid glitches in election preparations.

Chinamasa and Biti are part of the cabinet committee tasked with breaking the deadlock over the constitution-making process after Zanu PF demanded several amendments to the initially agreed Copac draft.

The committee last week reportedly failed to resolve contentious issues stalling the process and is expected to reconvene tomorrow.

Other members of the committee are Regional Integration and International Co-operation minister, Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga (MDC) and Copac co-chairpersons, Munyaradzi Paul Mangwana (Zanu PF), Douglas Mwonzora (MDC-T) and Edward Mkhosi (MDC).

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