AU stymies Mugabe's bid for elections without reforms

President Robert Mugabe has found no support among his old allies in the African Union for his bid to hold elections this year without carrying out key reforms.

Mugabe’s delegation to last weekend’s AU summit in Ethiopia sought support for Zanu-PF’s bid to force through elections in the face of strong opposition from the party’s coalition partners.

Ahead of the summit, Zanu-PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo said his party would go to the AU to “demand the holding of elections in Zimbabwe this year as well as the unconditional removal of economic sanctions by Western countries”.

“African leaders are fed up with the opposition’s attempts to delay elections. Democracy is about choosing leaders and if you refuse elections, you are denying your people their democratic right,” Gumbo said.

But African diplomats in Harare said the AU was never going to discuss elections in Zimbabwe, as Mugabe wanted, because the mandate of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to handle the Zimbabwe crisis still stood.

“The way the AU works is that it takes guidance from regional blocs.
Once it attempts to intervene directly, it risks creating conflicts within those regional blocs. So the AU will not talk about elections or sanctions in Zimbabwe until it gets a firm position from the SADC,” a senior SADC diplomat in Harare said on Wednesday.

Lindiwe Zulu, a member of President Jacob Zuma’s mediation team on Zimbabwe, confirmed that Zuma did not table any report on the subject at the summit and there had been no discussion of the mediation process.

Sufficient reforms
Civic bodies were also in Addis Ababa, countering Zanu-PF’s lobby by seeking African pressure for reform before elections.

“The Robert Mugabe government has failed to dismantle the violence machinery. The SADC has done little to bring transformation and very few sufficient reforms have been affected to guarantee free and fair elections,” said Dewa Mavinga of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, which was also in Ethiopia.

“The leadership of the army and the security forces remains extremely politicised and blatantly partisan towards Zanu-PF.”

Constitutional reform, vital to new elections, continues to be held back by bickering between the two main rivals, Zanu-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). A draft of the new Constitution was expected at the end of January but a committee tasked with writing it said it expected to complete an initial draft only later in February.

Elections must be held by March next year when the term of the current Parliament ends. But Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai insists that elections cannot be held without the new Constitution.

“We can’t talk of elections when we have not even adopted the Constitution. We have not even gone to the referendum,” Tsvangirai was quoted as saying this week. “We have to make sure that things are implemented for the conditions for elections to be free and fair.”

Welshman Ncube, head of the smaller MDC faction and a key figure in the constitutional reform process, said an election was impossible this year, given the fact that Zimbabwe also planned to hold a national census in addition to the required referendum on the Constitution. “Forget it, it is not going to happen. It is impossible to have all those things done within 11 months,” he said.

Radical element
But Jonathan Moyo, representing the stance of the radical element controlling Zanu-PF, insisted it was a “fallacy” that reforms were needed before elections.

“There are some who are saying reforms first and, after reforms, then elections,” said Moyo. “We see that in newspapers and other media platforms. This is a fallacy ... to say you must have reforms before you hold elections. We must be confident to say it’s a fallacy and we cannot run a country based on fallacies.”

Civic groups say they met Tomaz Salomao, the SADC’s executive secretary, who promised further meetings in Zimbabwe of the regional body to see through the reform process.

Mugabe would have used any debate on Zimbabwe to press for elections. Instead, the AU summit concentrated on the election of a new AU commission chair. Although there was speculation that Zimbabwe was opposed to South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Mugabe said on Tuesday that, like other leaders in Southern Africa, he felt incumbent chair Jean Ping “did not handle the Libyan issue properly”.

He also said the deadlocked vote was the doing of African countries he described as “fronts of France”.

Meanwhile, Ray Ndlovu reports that Mugabe’s push for an election this year has been given fresh impetus by the support he received last week from Zambian President Michael Sata.

Sata’s support for an election this year, with or without the necessary political reforms, is viewed as a fresh poser for the regional body, which until now, has been perceived as united in its resolve to turn up the heat on Mugabe.

Fanning political violence
Successive SADC summits held in Livingstone in Zambia and in Sandton, Johannesburg, last year condemned Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party for fanning political violence and leading a crackdown against opposition political figures.

Last month Mugabe and Sata held secret talks in the border town of Livingstone. It is strongly believed that it was there that Mugabe pressured Sata for support for his election plans.

Political observers believe that Sata’s breakaway from the SADC’s ranks could provide the crack Mugabe needs to split the regional bloc between allies and opponents of his election plans.

In the region Mugabe is perceived to have allies in Mozambique, Angola, Namibia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, whereas outspoken criticism has come mainly from South Africa and Botswana.

Charles Mangongera, a political analyst, said: “Mugabe faces a Herculean task in succeeding with his election plan. The biggest hurdle to his game plan is the SADC.

“He [Mugabe] and Zanu-PF will seize the election momentum from its December conference and try to plunge the whole country into an election psyche. Their eyes will be on the SADC and if the regional bloc bats an eyelid, they will move with haste to call an election.”

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