analysisBy Herbert Moyo
THE year 2013 is undoubtedly a crucial year for Zimbabwe with so many developments expected on the political front, the major highlights being the conclusion of the constitution-making exercise, holding of a referendum and ultimately the make-or-break elections.
Zimbabwe has been kept in election mode by President Robert Mugabe since the inclusive government was formed in 2009 but elections seem inevitable this year as the legislature's term reaches its constitutional limit.
Should elections be held, Mugabe would be one of the oldest presidential candidates ever at the ripe old age of 89, which he turns next month.
Mugabe will square up against leaders of the MDC formations, Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC-T), Welshman Ncube (MDC) and Job Sikhala (MDC 99), among other presidential aspirants.
Sikhala, a former student leader and MP for St Marys, would be writing his own piece of history as the youngest presidential candidate at 41.
But doubts persist as to whether the elections would be held, as they are predicated on the completion of political reforms agreed to by the main political parties under the auspices of Sadc and outlined in the Global political Agreement (GPA).
Of these, the adoption of a new constitution is a major milestone but currently the process is deadlocked and it is unlikely there would be a breakthrough before February given that Mugabe is on holiday the whole of January.
Analysts believe even if a deal on the draft constitution was to be reached in February, it would only mean a referendum in March after which time would be required for parliament to pass the constitutional Bill.
That would begin a process where all other laws would have to be re-aligned to conform to the new constitution, and as the Kenyan experience demonstrated, it is a lengthy process that might even take more than a year.
"The process is likely to be as long-drawn out as was the case in Kenya where it has taken almost two years to synchronise the old laws with the new constitution," wrote Ibbo Mandaza of the Sapes Trust's Policy Dialogue Forum.
Institute for a Democratic Alternative for Zimbabwe public policy and governance manager, Jabusile Shumba, concurred with Mandaza saying state institutions like the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), the military and state media would have to be reformed so elections do not produce a disputed outcome like those of 2008.
"Zec still has the same officials accused of partisanship and the military remains a major player in the electoral process instilling fear in voters and issuing reckless statements," said Shumba. "In essence, the infrastructure of coercion remains in place so there is no way an election outcome that is universally acceptable can be realised under such conditions," Shumba said.
Given the need for reforms which Sadc has consistently set as a pre-condition for elections, Mandaza and Shumba agreed elections might not even be held this year.
"Instead, a transitional government, or GNU (government of national unity) II, under the leadership of Mugabe and his principals (including Ncube) will steer the country until the date of the election in 2015," said Mandaza.
Shumba said: "The parties will extend the life of the GNU to 2014 through transitional clauses in the new constitution or further amendments to the old constitution."
Apart from election time-frames, it would be interesting to see how the political parties shape up for the electoral contest.
In a move likely to rile its so-called "young turks", Zanu PF would be fielding old horses in various constituencies.
As a party with an aging leadership, it is unlikely rejuvenation would come from recycling old horses like Philip Chiyangwa and Jonathan Moyo.
Having languished in the political wilderness ever since the 2004 abortive palace coup in Tsholotsho where they allegedly sought to replace Mugabe with Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, these politicians have come back into the party chastised and ready to accept the continued leadership of Mugabe.
It remains to be seen whether Tsvangirai, Ncube and other leaders would forge a common front and field one presidential candidate to defeat Mugabe.
Education minister David Coltart (MDC) last week added his voice to calls for an electoral pact to field one presidential candidate "to fight a common enemy", adding the 2008 election was lost because of split votes.
The MDC-T has to resolve the issue of who will contest legislative elections as tension mounts over the party's plans to protect incumbents from challenges by confirming sitting MPs instead of subjecting them to primary elections.
Added to this are demands by its youth wing for 25% of all constituencies to be reserved for its members (the youths).
The pending Supreme Court decision on the Welshman Ncube-Arthur Mutambara leadership wrangle may see further twists in the political soap opera, especially should the outcome favour Mutambara.
Sadc has already endorsed Ncube's leadership, a position which appears to be at variance with Mugabe who has refused to elevate Ncube to deputy prime minister in place of Mutambara under the convenient pretext of the latter's pending court challenge.
Zimbabwe's legislators also have to do more to deliver on their legislative mandate after a woeful performance in 2012 where they only sat for 54 days and passed five bills out of a possible 23.
Their reputation took a heavy battering following reports of corruption, selfish demands for money, cars and other luxuries, and with their term drawing to a close, this would be their last chance to rescue their legacy and enhance their quest for re-election.
All in all, Zimbabwe is poised for significant political developments that may see a democratic dispensation or further descent into chaos that has engulfed the country's political climate since 2000.