September 10, 2010

Mugabe orders minister to budget for polls

President Robert Mugabe has unexpectedly ordered Finance minister Tendai Biti to set aside a staggering $200 million in his forthcoming national budget to be delivered in November for fresh elections next year. Biti confirmed that he met Mugabe and was given an instruction to reserve funds for the referendum and fresh elections. Biti said this meant he had to make a special provision of US$100 million for the referendum on the draft constitution and another US$100 million on new elections in his budget.

Parties in the inclusive government agreed that they would hold fresh elections after the constitution-making process with or without a new constitution. The plebiscite on the draft constitution is likely to be held early to mid next year if the current chaotic constitution-making process does not drag on for much longer, while no one knows when new elections would be staged. Mugabe did not reveal to Biti when fresh elections would be held.

Mugabe's directive - which reveals his unflinching determination to have fresh polls next year whatever the electoral environment - is likely to cause a political uproar in government, mainly in parliament, and in civil society given that Treasury is broke. Biti also said from purely a financial point of view Mugabe's directive to reserve US$200 million was a "disaster". He said there was no "fiscal space" for such a huge expenditure on elections. Mugabe's spokesman George Charamba said he had not heard about the new drive for elections. "I haven't heard about it," he said.

Tsvangirai's spokesman James Maridari noted he could not deal with the issue and referred questions to MDC-T spokesman Nelson Chamisa who said he was not aware of the latest development of elections. Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara and MDC-M secretary-general Welshman Ncube were not available for comment. However, a row has of late been brewing within the inclusive government over the timing of the next elections and the level of Sadc's involvement in any such polls. Regional leaders are increasingly viewing fresh free and fair elections as the way out of Zimbabwe's decade-long political stalemate. Mugabe has made it clear that he wants early elections with or without a new constitution. Mugabe's position, which he reflected at the recent Sadc summit in Namibia, is that elections should immediately follow the referendum on the draft new constitution whose crafting is underway.

The process is expected to be completed in the first quarter of next year despite that it is dogged by lack of proper organisation and leadership and financial problems. The process is also not inclusive nor cohesive. The Global Political Agreement (GPA) provides a framework for a new constitution led by the three political parties in the arrangement which should lay the basis for future credible elections and political stability. Tsvangirai wants elections but believes Sadc, guarantors of the GPA, should play a central monitoring role. South African President Jacob Zuma flagged the issue of elections in Zimbabwe at the recent Sadc summit, demanding that Harare must ensure future polls were free and fair, not dispute again.

Mutambara has said while elections were crucial, what was important at the moment was to fully implement the GPA and create conditions for free and fair elections, instead of harping on about polls when the situation on the ground had not changed much. (Zimbabwe Independent)

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