|16. Juni 2013
Mugabe bows to (SADC) pressure, changes election date
Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s veteran president, has agreed to push back the date for elections in his southern African nation after bowing to pressure from regional leaders.
Mr Mugabe last week used his presidential powers to bypass parliament and set the poll date for July 31, threatening to trigger a constitutional crisis as opposition parties angrily rejected the move and insisted that reforms had to be implemented before Zimbabweans vote.
Mr Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party has been accused of attempting to fast-track the parliamentary and presidential vote despite concerns that it would be logistically challenging to hold elections by the end of July.
But after a meeting of the Southern African Development Community in neighbouring Mozambique, Mr Mugabe agreed to hold the elections on August 14. Although Mr Mugabe’s opponents viewed the SADC’s decision as a setback for the president, he appeared unfazed.
The 89-year-old, who has been in power since independence in 1980, described the decision as “a happy outcome for Zimbabwe”. “The final decision was that perhaps we should appeal to the court to examine the reasons for the arguments that have been made by others for giving people a little longer time,” Mr Mugabe said. “Our Ministry of Justice is going to do that.” The president derided the two wings of the Movement for Democratic Change – opposition parties that agreed to join a unity government with Zanu-PF in 2009 – saying they were scared to go to the polls. “They are afraid of elections; they know they are going to lose and it’s a sure case that they are going to lose,” he said. The elections will be the first since a violent and disputed ballot in 2008 and will be critical to determining the stability of the country.
Tendai Biti, the finance minister and secretary-general of prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC, was openly triumphalist after the SADC meeting. He lauded the SADC for “scuttling the evil and Machiavellian machinations of the chaos faction of Zanu-PF,” adding that the MDC was ready for elections. “Trust me, this winter we will finish it off,” he said.
But there was also scepticism that a two-week extension would be sufficient to implement further reforms and ensure the conditions are in place to enable more credible elections to take place. “Conditions are not ripe for free and fair elections,” said McDonald Lewanika, director of the Zimbabwe Crisis Coalition. “The security situation is not good, we want SADC to ensure that violence is stopped and the media is free to report without intimidation.” The MDC factions joined the unity government under an agreement brokered after the 2008 elections, with the parties, including Zanu-PF, committing to a series of reforms to improve human rights and create the conditions for more credible elections.
Some reforms have been implemented, including the adoption of a new constitution earlier this year, but a number are still outstanding and relations between the MDC and Zanu-PF have remained strained. The unity government has also been largely dysfunctional.