Zimbabweans should at last see a full presidential and parliamentary election sometime in 2013 and, conceivably, the end of the strong man rule of President Robert Gabriel Mugabe. His existing five-year mandate legally expires at the end of June. So, presumably – although there are various interpretations and a variety of contingent explanations – does the unhappy Government of National Unity (GNU) with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangerai that came into being in 2009.
Mugabe for months has been demanding national balloting well before June, even before the passage in Parliament of Zimbabwe’s long-awaited and endlessly debated new national constitution. Aged 89 in February and in office since 1980, he intends to contest the presidency once again. Given severe health issues, he does not want to wait while the nation’s people debate and approve the constitution. Nor does he believe that Zimbabwe needs a reconstituted and non-partisan Election Commission, a voters’ roll scrubbed of the dead and the missing, or any of the other niceties of a proper and hard-to-rig popular poll.
Yet, according to the Global Peace Agreement (GPA) that established the GNU, the constitution must be approved by Zimbabweans casting their votes in a referendum. The Southern African Development Community (SADC), heavily influenced by President Jacob Zuma and South Africa, has over and over said that there must be an approved new constitution in place, plus an Election Commission and a clean voters’ roll before a Zimbabwean electoral process would be considered credible. SADC constrains Mugabe from moving unilaterally and his security forces intimidating voters and imposing a result.
Furthermore, the draft new constitution that was released before Christmas specifically prohibits anyone who has already served two terms as president of the republic from serving as president. This clause (5.4.2), in a document approved by negotiators from Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Front – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and Tsvangirai’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), seems to prevent Mugabe from contesting the presidency. But a clause (Schedule 8) in the existing national constitution says that the presidency shall “continue to be occupied” by Mugabe, who is named in the Schedule.
Obviously, there is ample room for legal maneuver and disagreement. Mugabe thinks he can be president as long as he lives. A number of the hardliners, securocrats, and presidential pretenders close to Mugabe – Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, Armed Forces Chief Constantine Chiwenga, and Air Marshall Perence Shiri – know that their hopes of remaining in power and diamond wealth depend on Mugabe’s re-anointment. Tsvangirai, Minister of Finance Tendai Biti, and Vice-President Joice Mujuru (possibly allied to Tsvangirai in antagonism to Mnangagwa and the other hardliners) all seek the end of the Mugabe era.
Zuma and SADC want a peaceful and internationally-approved transition from the Mugabe era. Hence their and MDC’s insistence (so far) on fundamental reforms being enacted before any poll so that Zimbabweans can freely and securely choose a successor to Mugabe.
To do so, Parliament will have to be recalled in January to approve the constitution. Several months of national debate and education would follow, with a referendum possible as early as April. Then the real contest for national parliamentary and presidential elections could commence – providing that there were a list of eligible voters and a new commission. Eventually, by September or October, people could go to the polls properly. Or, Parliament conceivably could forget about the new constitution, pass ordinances permitting a snap election, and proceed – with or without SADC’s approval – to the vote.
Zimbabwe has not yet reached the peaceful end of the Mugabe era.