Zimbabwe: Tsvangirai Shooting Self in the Foot?

PRIME Minister (PM) Morgan Tsvangirai could find himself in a Catch 22 situation in the event of yet another disputed election outcome, analysts cautioned this week.

The PM, the leader of government business in the coalition, has taken over supervision of electoral processes leading to the next harmonised elections, particularly meeting with officials from the country's institutions charged with staging elections President Robert Mugabe wants held in March this year, although events on the ground point otherwise.

PM Tsvangirai has twice met with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), the ministers of justice and finance, the Registrar General's Office as well as other top civil servants charged with preparing for the country's harmonised elections expected to bring closure to the acrimonious coalition government.

Last Thursday, the premier met with Patrick Chinamasa, the Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, Acting Finance Minister Theresa Makone and ZEC deputy chairperson Joyce Kazembe, among other top bureaucrats.

Late last year, he met ZEC officials as well as Finance Minister Tendai Biti to iron out issues bedevilling the electoral processes leading to fresh polls, among them voter registration, the voters roll and the referendum.

In his meetings, he is said to have expressed unhappiness over delays by ZEC in rolling out voter registration ahead of the harmonised elections. Sources said he authorised Chinamasa and Makone to source funding for all the processes leading to elections whose dates are still to be promulgated.

At last week's meeting, he demanded that voter registration starts "immediately" after instructing the Ministry of Finance to release funds for the exercise, which was suspended last week due to a severe financial squeeze at ZEC, which in turn blames its non-action on a broke Treasury.

"The PM was concerned with the delays in the voter registration exercise. He met with all people concerned to discuss the way forward. PM Tsvangirai wants the process fast tracked," said William Bango, the acting spokesperson for PM Tsvangirai.

The PM, according to sources, also used the meeting to clarify the roles of ZEC and the Registrar-General's Office before, during and after elections to avoid problems encountered during the disputed 2008 polls.

The role of ZEC in the disputed 2008 polls hogged the limelight after the body took more than six weeks to announce the results of the presidential elections, which showed that PM Tsvangirai had in fact outpolled President Mugabe.

ZEC attributed the inordinate delays to what they claimed was "meticulous verification" of the results, something ZANU-PF opponents still dispute to this day after the electoral body then proceeded to order a presidential run-off.

ZEC claimed the MDC-T leader had not garnered more than 50 plus one percent of the votes cast to be declared the President of Zimbabwe, forcing PM Tsvangirai to boycott the presidential election run-off, citing state-sponsored violence his party claims killed more than 200 of his supporters in cold blood.

President Mugabe subsequently went on to win the one-man presidential election run-off held on June 27, 2008, which however, was branded a sham by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the international community, culminating in the formation of the present coalition government which includes Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara.

The MDC formations are adamant the newly constituted ZEC secretariat is still packed with President Mugabe's loyalists and spies while they also accuse the Registrar General's Office of keeping a shambolic voters' roll they claim contains names dead people and children.

While the MDCs might indeed have a bone to chew with ZEC, critics of the MDC-T leader argue that it is wrong for the premier to superintend an institution, which will referee an election in which he is a key player.

They view his superintending of ZEC and other vital organs of state charged with running polls as a sheer lack of tact by a presidential hopeful, pointing out that those constitutional bodies, especially those dealing with elections or supporting democracy, should be beyond executive interference of any nature.

The critics say budgets for bodies like ZEC should be a direct parliamentary vote and not open to machinations by the executive, such as the office of the PM or President.

Other critics claim that by roping in PM Tsvangirai to superintend the process leading to the next elections, the ZANU-PF leader and his strategists wanted to create a functional illusion, especially targeted at SADC that ZEC is an objective national institution with bi-partisan acceptability.

By having the PM seem 'in control', President Mugabe is thought to be attempting to pre-empt post electoral contests about the inherently unfair management of elections by ZEC.

"The blunt truth of the matter is that PM Tsvangirai is being used by President Mugabe to act as an alibi for his own self-destruction," said a critic of President Mugabe.

"ZEC is a constitutional body that should be beyond executive control. By posing as Father Christmas, making promises to doll out budgets which should be coming directly from a parliamentary vote, PM Tsvangirai is doing more harm to ZEC as to his own party. He delegitimises his concerns when circumstances are reversed and we start seeing President Mugabe meeting up with ZEC officials," he added.

But Trevor Maisiri, a political analyst with the International Crisis Group, said there was nothing sinister with PM Tsvangirai or any other member of the executive meeting ZEC or any other government agency charged with running elections in the country.

Maisiri pointed out that there was an agreement by the Global Political Agreement principals in late 2012 to engage all independent commissions including ZEC, adding that the premier's current engagement is a culmination of that.

"What is not clear, however, is if he is engaging ZEC as an assigned representative of the principals or he is doing that in his own accord as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe," he said.

But the analysts are agreed that PM Tsvangirai's engagement of ZEC is not a guarantee of election in 2013 but a process that could contribute towards the staging of the polls even in 2015.

Maisiri added: "But what PM Tsvangirai is doing, meeting ZEC and other election officials is not the ultimate determinant. Funding for elections remains contentious. Clearly Zimbabwe does not seem to have resources in its Treasury to cater for elections and the referendum. The option will be to approach external agencies, which ZANU-PF is opposed to. Some of the agencies will obviously want to carry out their own independent assessment and evaluation of electoral processes if they are to put funds into it. This will obviously be resisted by some political sides citing interference in internal political processes. However, funding remains a huge gridlock in facilitating an election process in 2013."

Earnest Mudzengi, a political analyst, said by involving PM Tsvangirai in the electoral processes in readiness for the next plebiscite, ZANU-PF appeared desperate to legitimise an early election under a flawed electoral environment.

"It is clear ZANU-PF has roped in PM Tsvangirai into what is being touted as an inclusive election preparation process. If the MDC-T buys into this plot, then elections will be held this year without much of meaningful electoral reforms. This is what an opportunistic clique within ZANU-PF wants and they may as well get it should the MDC buy into the thickening plot," said Mudzengi.

Psychology Maziwisa, a fiery critic of the MDC, said the premier's meeting with ZEC and other people charged with running elections in the country demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that when President Mugabe says Finance Minister Tendai Biti is sabotaging crucial national processes, he is not playing politics but saying exactly what is on the ground.

"(PM) Tsvangirai has seen this for himself and has had to order Biti to release money to ZEC and we are not sure if even his own instruction has been heeded. It can also be gleaned from these meetings that this is yet another sign that President Mugabe is determined that we hold elections in this country as soon as possible.

"But by far the most obvious reason for (PM) Tsvangirai's inclusion is that President Mugabe wants to make sure (PM) Tsvangirai has no excuse and nowhere to run when he is trounced at the next election because he has a propensity to accuse ZEC each time he loses. Now that he is in charge of overseeing the functions of ZEC, that excuse falls away."

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