HomeOpinion & AnalysisLet’s be honest about elections in 2011

Let’s be honest about elections in 2011

DEPUTY Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara has been quoted in various media as having said that there might not be a need for elections next year.  His reason for saying this, as reported, is that he believes Zimbabwe is not ready. 

Perhaps he should say that it is the inclusive government, and not necessarily Zimbabweans, who are not ready.  In fact Zimbabweans have always been ready for a free and fair election. It has just never happened since 1980.  As a result, we have learnt to live with governments that are not as legitimate as expected, hence our being saddled with at least two negotiated governments since our Independence. The one government was formed in 1987 between Zanu PF and PF Zapu and the latest being the  tripartite government negotiated by Sadc.

It is however the latter government that is of significance in the current political discourse. This is because it is scheduled to hold elections by latest, 2011. Or at least so we are told.  Of its three principals, Mutambara has been the most vocal in insisting that they are not in a position to hold these elections. President Robert Mugabe has talked of the same in a manner that seems more a threat than a democratic possibility, while Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has generally referred to them as a given in 2011.

Regardless of the positions of the three political parties in government, an examination of public sentiment would probably result in a call for elections but under a democratic framework.  This framework would include issues such as the establishment of an independent electoral commission and international observer missions.  It is a position shared by civic society organisations and some of the main political actors.  The question that is yet to be adequately addressed is when can these ambitions become a reality?

When the inclusive government was formed, the intention was that it would be a transitional government.  Its key performance mandates were to establish a new democratic constitution, hold democratic elections in terms of that new constitution as well as stabilise the national economy and re-establish social stability.  All of this was to be done within, at most, 24 months.  Over half of the envisioned time has elapsed and no real progress has been made on all four major tasks of the inclusive government.  And in particular, no meaningful progress has been made either on the constitutional or electoral reform process.

What has been achieved is the establishment of bodies such as Copac and the Electoral Commission without a clear understanding of what their roles in leading to a democratic free and fair election are.  If one takes the example of Copac, there is more in-fighting over resources than there is any real progress or articulation of the transitional agenda of the inclusive government.  And where one examines the significance of the Electoral Commission, its functions remain largely unchanged because there has been no democratic amendment of the Electoral Act.  And it does not seem likely that such amendments will take place given the fact that the main disputes were about the personalities  running the commissions, most of whom have since been replaced.

And then there is the rather complicated issue of the term of office of parliament which, judging from the statements that have appeared in the media, does not even begin to consider itself a transitional parliament.  A number of MPs have privately indicated their unwillingness to subject themselves to an electoral process until 2013.  But as has been the case with a number of constitutional amendments in the recent past, they can always be whipped into submission.

Given this state of affairs, it would be reasonable to assume that there are going to be a number of problems with the holding of elections next year. And these primarily hinge on the lack of time to complete a decent constitutional reform process, hold a national referendum and negotiate adequately with Zanu PF to democratise the electoral system.

Is it possible for all of these to be done by May 2011?  It will depend largely on the ability of the three political principals to fast-track political processes that will, if it occurs, further compromise any notions of a transparent transition to democracy.  The risk will become that of another potential global political agreement.

In essence, the inclusive government is faced with the task of seeking to negotiate its way to an election that none of the principals wants to lose.  Yet they have done little to ensure a change from the violent political culture that attends to elections, have made little progress on the constitution and have an undemocratic electoral system which they have barely begun to dismantle.

There should be a more honest analysis of these suggested elections, and their political meaning to the people of Zimbabwe. To be overly political about their occurrence without being frank about our ability to make them truly democratic is to be dishonest with the citizens of our country.

The inclusive government, civil society and whoever else intends to ensure that these elections occur need to revise the manner in which they are undertaking the constitutional and electoral reform processes.  On the former, they must make it people-driven or call a spade a spade and re-negotiate Kariba without being dishonest with the people.  They must desist from arguing about the personalities who make up the electoral and other commissions and deal with the particular laws and systems that enable these statutory bodies to exist.  And, as a final point, it is not necessarily about timetables but  substantive reforms that are undertaken prior to May 2011.

lZhangazha is a political analyst based in Harare.

By Takura Zhangazha

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