Weeks later, South African President Jacob Zuma said Harare should “park” outstanding issues of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) and “proceed” to create a conducive environment for fresh elections.
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai has bought into Zuma’s proposal to “park and proceed” after meeting the South African leader three weeks ago on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland and was told that regional leaders were proposing elections as the panacea to the country’s political impasse.
Tsvangirai said a new constitution should be enacted by October followed by fresh elections six months later.
Zuma wants the outstanding issues “parked” and a road map to free and fair elections drawn up.
One source privy to the GPA talks, which have deadlocked, said: “To Zuma and some regional leaders the only exit point is free and fair elections.
The road map would be anchored on the crafting of a new constitution and the creation of an environment that will guarantee security of people, freedom to campaign, media reforms and the democratisation of electoral laws and election management.”
While such statements might be met with glee from the international community and some sections in the region, Zimbabweans do not know whether to welcome an election as early as April next year or to feel worried.
Memories of the run-up to the June 27 bloody presidential run-off poll are still fresh in people’s minds and nothing has been done on the ground to create an environment that allows for a free and fair election so that people can freely choose their next leader.
Zimbabweans agree generally that the situation has improved under the GPA compared to the chaotic and violent 2008 and years preceding. They are also aware that at some point, the inclusive government will have to give way to a popularly-elected government.
Political analysts this week said Zimbabweans are not ready for an election in the next 14 months. They also believe that none of the three political leaders wants the elections in 2011 and were just posturing when they made such pronouncements.
An early election, analysts say, would be suicidal for Zanu PF because Mugabe’s party may never regain absolute power after having lost its parliamentary majority in March 2008.
Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) chairperson Tinoziva Bere pointed out that Mugabe would only call for an election when he feels his party has a chance of winning and next April might be too soon, especially now when it is at its most divided since Independence in 1980.
The analysts said talking about an election in 14 months is not enough. The inclusive government has to guarantee people that there would not be a repeat of the pre-June 27 period, when more than 200 MDC supporters died, while thousands others were tortured and injured.
They said there was need for national healing before elections could take place.
Zesn national director Rindai Chipfunde-Vava said national healing was just as important as implementing electoral reforms if the country is to have elections under an environment that allows free participation and freedom of speech.
“There is need to do confidence-building in the people. National healing is very important so that people appreciate the elections, otherwise people will still be traumatised and they have not forgotten 2008.
Why should people die during an election?” she said.
The analysts said the inclusive government has to make sure that benchmarks, such as electoral, media, judiciary, legal and security reforms, are in place before Zimbabwe can hold a free and fair election.
They said as long as the environment remains skewed in Zanu PF’s favour, which still controls the army, judiciary, security agents, police and state media, MDC would have an uphill task to campaign freely and mobilise its supporters.
Failure to dismantle the Joint Operations Command (JOC), a security think-tank that was reportedly behind the bloody presidential run-off poll that returned Mugabe to power, worsens the situation, the analysts said.
Bere said: “The conditions on the ground show that there have not been substantial reforms that create an environment for free and fair elections. No measures have been taken to prevent what happened in 2008. The perpetrators of violence are still roaming the streets.”
He said as long as there are no security reforms, the chances that there would be an orgy of violence are high.
“The security sector has to be reformed to ensure that it is independent and it is reintegrated. If that is not done, statements such as ‘we will not salute’ anyone except Mugabe will be repeated. It is still the same characters who don’t accept plurality.”
Programme coordinator of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights Irene Petras said the Attorney-General’s office, police and other security services should be reformed into institutions that are impartial and which do not selectively apply the law.
She said the service chiefs should be made aware that the people’s choice should be respected and their operation should not be in violation of the constitution, which states that they should not be political but should be able to serve whoever is in office.
Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander Constantine Chiwenga, Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri and Commissioner of Prisons Paradzai Zimondi are on record saying that they would never salute a president other than Mugabe, least of all one who did not participate in the war of liberation.
“Punitive laws still exist and until there are substantial reforms that ensure that people are free and that create an environment that guarantees people freedom of expression and association, elections should not be held,” said Bere. “In addition, election reforms have not been implemented. The constitution-making process is all over the place and might be implemented as a formality. Democratisation of the media is still not done. There is still hate language in state media against the MDC.”
Petras said the inclusive government should ensure that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is professional and transparent and that the role of the registrar-general should not be what it is today, where there is no accountability.
“We need an overhaul of the voters’ roll and we also need to look at the delimitation. These things need to be addressed first,” she said.
Chipfunde-Vava said rushing into elections without implementing necessary electoral reforms would lead to disaster.
“If you want to see a difference from elections conducted in 2008, we need significant reforms to improve the elections environment. The voters’ roll needs revamping and all this needs to be done before an election is done,” she said.
“First we need a constitution to be done and then we need time to implement what is in the constitution. The reforms have to be significant –– legal, institutional and the architecture of the elections. Even the media reforms have to be done. They are just talking about media reforms but doing nothing about them.”
Former United States Ambassador James MacGee in his 2009 ambassador’s review also believed that elections could only be held if the government creates an open and free environment with international observers monitoring polling stations and tabulations.
“In order to create conditions under which free and fair elections can take place, the legal system will have to be reformed, freedom of the press and speech will have to be restored, political violence will have to end,” he said adding that: “Free and fair, supervised elections seem a long way away.”
McGee said there were limited signs that Mugabe and Zanu PF were committed to fundamental changes to meet the benchmarks for a free and fair election.
Bere said there seems to be no timetable in place for fixing these problems.
“Instead of talking about elections, politicians should be demanding electoral reforms,” he said.
Bere said international observers could not guarantee or stop political violence.
He said even if they were there, people would still not be allowed to freely make their choice under these current conditions.
Chipfunde-Vava concurred when she said: “Internationally supervised elections do not stop violence. I have supervised internationally monitored elections and these are not enough on their own. They only augment and supplement the local environment”.