Zim unity govt marks two years in power

Zimbabwe’s shaky unity government on Friday marks two years in power, but President Robert Mugabe’s call for early polls has sparked fears of sweeping violence that marred the 2008 presidential vote.

Mugabe’s arch-rival-turned-premier Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) won the 2008 poll, but failed to get an outright majority, which led to a bloody presidential run-off.

Tsvangirai later withdrew, citing violence against his supporters, allowing Mugabe to win the election unopposed and causing a lengthy political deadlock.

After negotiations mediated by Southern African leaders, a unity government was formed on February 11 2009, but it has been fraught with infighting.

‘Can’t be allowed to continue’
Last year Mugabe—who is accused by critics of stifling human rights and democracy—called for elections, saying the uneasy power-sharing government “can’t be allowed to continue”.

“I wish those who want elections could have them among themselves without involving us common people,” said Ernest Tsambo, a villager.

“We are living in peace with our neighbours now but once the election campaigns start, we start fighting each other and it is not good for the country,” he added.

“If we start talking about elections the first thing that comes to people’s minds is the trauma they went through in 2008,” said Okay Machisa, director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association, which sheltered hundreds of victims of violence.

“We should [instead] be talking about reforms in the security sector, the media and electoral systems,” he added.

New clashes between youth supporters of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF and Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s MDC have been reported in Harare over the past two weeks, but the violence has been denounced by both parties.

On the positive side, the new government has stabilised the economy and curbed hyperinflation from a peak of 230-million percent in 2008 to 3,2%.

Mugabe, in charge of the country since its 1980 independence from Britain, is pushing for elections despite the fact that a new constitution—which is supposed to pave the way for the new polls—has not been drawn up.

As part of the power-sharing pact, the rival parties agreed to draft a new constitution and amend media and electoral laws, criticised as draconian, to ensure free and fair polls.

Rindai Chipfunde-Vava, head of the election monitoring coalition Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), said any new polls without reforms would be a farce.

“The voters’ roll is in shambles and needs to be cleansed of dead people and duplicate names,” Chipfunde-Vava said.

A report titled “Voters’ Roll Observation Report” released by the ZESN in January revealed that almost a third of the names appearing on Zimbabwe’s voters’ roll were of people who had died.

“We are also calling for free and equal access to the media by all contesting candidates, and the national healing organ needs to be given more teeth and attend to the incidents which happened in 2008,” Chipfunde-Vava said. “Without these minimum conditions we will find ourselves back to square one, a repeat of what happened ... We feel elections should take us forwards, not backwards.”

Finance Minister and secretary general of the MDC Tendai Biti said his party wanted elections only if there was a level playing field.

“The party wants elections, but there has to be an atmosphere existing for free and fair election,” Biti said.
“There has to be security of the person. We are saying, ‘yes’ to elections but ‘no’ to bloodbath.”

Takura Zhangazha, a Harare-based independent political analyst, said free and fair elections were impossible at this stage.

“There has been no redress of political violence issues. There is no confidence in the Zimbabwean citizen that their vote counts as far as they can see at the moment, said Zhangazha.—AFP

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