January 27, 2011

African Union proposes elections in 2013

The African Union Commission is opposed to elections in Zimbabwe this year and is now trying to persuade President Robert Mugabe to postpone them to 2013 to allow for necessary reforms that can ensure violence-free, credible, free and fair polls, top officials in the commission revealed this week. In separate interviews with the Zimbabwe Independent, senior officials in the Political Affairs' Department of Human Rights, Elections and Peace and Security of the AU Commission, who preferred anonymity because they are not authorised to speak to the media, said the commission was planning to send an AU assessment team to Zimbabwe to find out if conditions were right for elections.
They were, however, quick to point out that due to financial constraints, the AU could not send observer and monitoring teams six months before an election as the MDC-T wanted. While the head of the Department of Human Rights and Elections of the AU Commission, Mamadou Dia, could neither confirm nor deny that the commission wanted polls in Zimbabwe held in 2013, he said elections should only take place in a conducive environment. "What needs to be done in Zimbabwe before elections is to ensure that the environment is conducive for free and fair elections and this has to be done by Zimbabweans themselves," Dia said.

Top commission officials said members of the commission would be meeting with Zimbabwe's Foreign minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi before the heads of state and government summit starting on Sunday to express their reservations on an early election. The officials said the commission is in agreement that the current environment prevailing in Zimbabwe was not conducive to hold credible elections free of violence and intimidation. They believe the country has not carried out sufficient institutional and legislative reforms to enable it to hold free and fair elections. "The AU commission is against elections this year -- we are in agreement on this," said an official in the Department of Human Rights and Elections. "We believe conditions in Zimbabwe are not ideal for free and fair elections. We are planning to meet with minister Mumbengegwi to advise and persuade him as the commission that elections should ideally be held in 2013."

The official said if efforts to meet with Mumbengegwi fail, they would find a way of making sure Mugabe gets the message during the summit and is well advised of the implications of having an election this year under the current conditions. "If we feel that he (Mumbengegwi) is too scared to meet and convey this message to Mugabe, we will make sure that the message gets to the president, even if it means forcing a meeting with him during the summit. Everyone is worried about what is happening in Ivory Coast and what we want is to avoid a possible conflict (in Zimbabwe)," he said. "The country needs years to prepare for a proper and clean election. Zimbabwe's rush into prematurely prepared elections in 2011 can only provide further (ammunition) to the West to find an opening to mess up Zimbabwe. The people are being rushed by their leaders and that is a recipe for disaster."

This follows Mugabe's statement last Sunday on his return from Singapore that elections would be held with or without a new constitution. Mugabe said he had the right to dissolve parliament and call for elections this year, despite strong opposition for an early election being held without necessary electoral, security and media reforms and a guarantee that it will be violence and intimidation-free. "Just imagine elections in Zimbabwe in 2011," queried an AU official. "What solution will they bring to the socio-economic woes facing the majority of poor Zimbabweans? Is it not that such rushed elections would only aggravate a situation that already has had enough? Why should Zimbabwe follow wrong priorities at this critical time of its history? Surely, holding an election in 2011, even in 2012, is not a real priority for Zimbabwe in the present situation. The priority is immediate socio-economic recovery. Dia said the AU could not afford to send a mission for a long period of observation.

He said: "We don't have funds to send an observer mission six months before or stay on six months after. It is very, very difficult because the means of the union does not allow for such a long period of observation, but the AU will send an observer mission like what they did the last time and observe together with Sadc. Normally, we just go two months before."

Asked what the commission would do to ensure that the AU observer mission's report, which in past elections always okayed the results despite reports of violence, intimidation and rigging, reflected the situation on the ground, Dia said they are hoping that the summit of heads of state would discuss this issue and agree on how observer missions could be more decisive when dealing with these issues. "You know it is difficult because observer missions are composed of people from various countries with different views and experiences," he said. But when pressed to respond to the general view that the AU is not doing enough for Zimbabwe as guarantors of the global political agreement (GPA), Dia said the diverse views, positions and alliances of the 53-member continental grouping made it difficult to take a common position. "The AU is also a group of member states with diverse positions, views and alliances and it has not been easy to take up a position. The member states have to consider so many things and yes, this brotherly thing also comes into play," he said. "It is not as easy but what we want and our main strategy as the commission is to make sure that Africa is peaceful, be it in Zimbabwe or in Ivory Coast. We want to see people make elections peaceful - that is the major goal because we also don't need processes that lead to chaos like civil war because this has an impact on the population." Dia said there was willingness in the continent to ensure that there is peace and stability in Africa so that it can progress economically.

Meanwhile, an MDC-T delegation headed by its deputy secretary for international affairs Willis Madzimure is in Addis Ababa to lobby the AU commission to keep Zimbabwe on its radar as the country prepares for possible elections in 2011.

Madzimure told the Independent that: "Mugabe's statement (at Harare airport) should have frightened the AU that Zimbabwe is going back to its old crisis. We are here just to sensitise the leadership and also some important institutions of the AU so that they keep Zimbabwe in check. We actually want a situation where someone is appointed to come and visit Zimbabwe periodically and start engaging the principals and monitor how we are meeting certain requirements that will allow for free and fair elections. "The AU knows that our electoral laws are flawed and that we have security forces being involved in the processes. The AU should also deal with issue of power transfer. It has to guarantee power transfer." (Zimbabwe Independent)

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