18.2.2013

Khama expresses doubt over peaceful Zim polls as Mugabe sets referendum date

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s most outspoken high-level African critic Ian Khama has expressed doubt over the possibility of peaceful elections in Zimbabwe, saying those responsible for the “brutality and intimidation” of 2008 remained in place and ready to act, according to a Business Day report.

“All I can say... is that I hope there will be a credible election… The reason I say ‘hope’ is because all the people who were involved in the brutality and intimidation that took place back then are still there today,” he said. “I have not seen any evidence that they have changed their attitude towards trying to ensure that Zanu-PF will emerge victorious.” “So I think that they [Zanu-PF loyalists] are still capable of trying to engage in intimidation, deploying the security services to bring that about… telling the people in the security services how they should vote. The potential for that is still there.” He said he would urge his Southern African Development Community (SADC) colleagues to send an election monitoring team well before the polls “so that you can monitor all the kinds of things that went wrong before the election last time and give comfort to the citizens, to be able to go about their political campaigning knowing observers are there.” Khama said the Zimbabwean authorities should be persuaded to drop their objections to international observers.
Meanwhile, Mugabe has issued an official proclamation setting March 16 as the date for the nation to vote on a new constitution. A government notice formally published on Friday leaves a calendar month for distribution of the 160-page draft document and campaigning for a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ vote.
Independent advocacy groups say that is not long enough for a free poll to reflect the wishes of electors.
The economic situation in Zimbabwe has become extremely difficult lately. “Last week, when we paid salaries to budget employees, there only US$217 left in the state treasury,” Zimbabwe’s Finance Minister Tendai Biti told reporters in January. The draft constitution was completed on February 6 after three years of disputes, bickering and delays. Democratic reforms to the constitution were a key demand of regional mediators after violent, disputed elections in 2008. About 90 000 copies of the draft are being printed for distribution starting on Monday.
Zimbabwe has nearly six million registered voters out of a population of 13 million. Global rights monitor Human Rights Watch recently urged the European Union to insist on tangible human rights reforms and free and fair elections as a precondition for lifting targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe.
“It would be premature for the EU to lift targeted sanctions on Mugabe and members of his inner circle simply for holding a referendum on a new constitution,” Tiseke Kasambala, Africa advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
The EU imposed sanctions including a travel ban and asset freeze on Mugabe and his close allies following elections in 2002 which the bloc said were rigged to hand the veteran ruler victory.
Kasambala said that lifting or suspending the sanctions before Zimbabwe carries out comprehensive rights reforms will give Mugabe and his party free rein to continue repression ahead of elections expected later this year.
HRW said if the EU wants to encourage respect for human rights in Zimbabwe, it should postpone lifting or suspending targeted sanctions until after the country holds credible, free and fair elections.
A report on Friday said Zanu-PF is planning a consolidated fund to bankroll its campaign for national elections so as to ensure candidates also campaign for President Robert Mugabe.
According to the Mail and Guardian, party insiders said the plan was to bar all party electoral candidates from self-funding their campaigns as a strategy to force them to rally behind Mugabe, who in some instances in the 2008 poll garnered less votes than some members of parliament in their constituencies.
The party’s national fund had been mooted to control the campaign activities of candidates, sources said. In the past Zanu-PF has allowed its candidates to fund their own activities, a practice that sources say has resulted in some of its candidates only focusing on their individual campaigns and not selling Mugabe to the electorate. “No one will be allowed to personally fund their elections,” the source said. “It’s all going to come from one fund and the condition is that all candidates will campaign for the president, [together] with their own campaigns for parliamentary and other electoral posts riding on the president.” Zanu-PF’s secretary for administration, Didymus Mutasa, refused to comment, saying he would not discuss party business with the media. “That’s a Zanu-PF internal affair. Why should Zanu-PF announce its strategy to the whole world? These are affairs we cannot discuss with the press,” said Mutasa. (The Namibian, Windhoek)

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