When Zimbabwe’s unity government was formed three years ago, the unlikely coupling of long-ruling Robert Mugabe and his rival Morgan Tsvangirai was seen as a stepping stone to new elections.
Now the electoral preparations are two years behind schedule, and analysts say the rocky coalition could hobble along for yet another year.
“We will have to continue with the dysfunctional inclusive government for much longer than it was supposed to last as long as the parties keep arguing,” said John Makumbe, a political scientist at the University of Zimbabwe.
Mugabe and Tsvangirai have described their power-sharing regime formed February 2009, as “a difficult marriage”, “a strange beast”, and “a two-headed snake going in no particular direction”.
The two remain sharply divided over reforms of the security forces — still under Mugabe’s control — as well as a new constitution and the sharing of key government posts.
After years of economic contraction, the unity deal has helped Zimbabwe’s economy to grow again, but poverty and unemployment remain endemic.
Human rights activists and members of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), from ministers and to ordinary supporters, still suffer arrest and harassment.
Victims of political violence, which has marred every election since 2000, have received no redress.
“As a result of the tug-of-war, nothing meaningful has happened in terms of poverty alleviation and the implementation of government policies,” Makumbe said. “The inclusive government is not working and this standstill situation will continue for the rest of the year.”
Mugabe and senior members of his Zanu-PF party want elections this year, but legal experts say that’s impossible.
“We may have elections by June next year,” said top lawyer Lovemore Madhuku said. “To try to have them before the end of December is not possible … The government will continue despite its faults and fissures because none of the players want it to collapse,” he said.
“Whether or not the government collapses depends on whether the MDC feels it can’t continue in an arrangement where it has got no power,” Mugabe added.
Before any polls, the regionally-brokered unity deal requires a new constitution, but work on it has run in fits and starts, hindered by attacks on meetings by Zanu-PF supporters.
The minister in charge of the process said on Wednesday that a referendum on the charter could not be held before August, meaning elections would likely take place only next year.
“My assessment is the earliest we can have a referendum is August or September,” Eric Matinenga told journalists.
Matinenga, a lawyer and MDC member, said the government would then have to clean up the voters’ roll and mark out constituency boundaries.
A national census set for later this year was likely to further delay the process, the minister said.
“One hopes the politicisation of this process will be reduced to a minimum,” Matinenga said. “This is a national process rather than a party process. Unfortunately we have people asking, ‘to what extent does this process advance the cause of my political party?’.”
“As of now we don’t have a deadlock,” Matinenga said. “There is a desire to move forward on issues which are outstanding.
The Financial Gazette newspaper said in an editorial on Thursday the inclusive government has had little impact as the parties spent more energies grappling over outstanding issues.
“At the rate the coalition government is going, it risks the epitaph on its tombstone having these words inscribed: “Here lies the government of national unity whose only achievement was to bring together two strange bedfellows to milk a sick cow while the proverbial Rome was burning.” — AFP