By Fungi Kwaramba
HARARE – Coalition government partners are agreed that a “mini-general election” can proceed this year without key reforms such as security sector realignment. A Supreme Court ruling last week ordered President Robert Mugabe to gazette a day for by-elections in three constituencies in the Matabeleland region by August 31.
But this could turn into a mini-general election as more than 30 constituencies are vacant and legal experts say elections should be held there too.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC party and a breakaway formation led by Industry minister Welshman Ncube had previously stated their resistance to any elections held before the implementation of electoral and security sector reforms. But they appear to have softened up in light of the Supreme Court ruling and are now saying they will participate, joining Zanu PF in the chorus for the by-elections to proceed.
In separate interviews, the three parties in the fragile three-year-old coalition say they are ready for the polls notwithstanding the fact that the power-sharing Global Political Agreement (GPA) has not been fully implemented. The by-elections are key because they will act as a measure ahead of a more pronounced watershed poll to be held most likely next year.
Douglas Mwonzora, the spokesperson for Tsvangirai’s MDC formation, said the by-elections are a test of the country’s commitment to peace. “We are ready for any eventuality, even (by-elections) without reforms. This is a true test of the GPA parties and also of Zanu PF regarding its sincerity to end violence,” said Mwonzora. The smaller MDC formation said it was ready for the elections even though political reforms are still to be fully implemented.
“Our position as a party is that we have always been prepared for by-elections. We respect this ruling and we will participate but this is only for the by-elections,” said Nqobani Moyo, the party’s director of policy. Zanu PF secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa said his party has always wanted elections and the Supreme Court ruling came at an opportune time.
“We are prepared for elections and for by-elections we do not need to be prepared,” said Mutasa adding, “If you win now it does not mean that you will win the bigger elections.” The parties had stayed by-elections after reaching a gentlemen’s agreement not to contest each other in case of parliamentary vacancies in a bid to maintain stability after the violent 2008 polls.
Three former MDC MPs who were expelled from their party for crossing the floor contrary to Zimbabwe’s laws however, successfully mounted a legal challenge resulting in the Supreme Court ruling. Observers say the by-elections will be a testing ground of political support and electoral conditions and therefore could provide room for strategising towards the general elections.
Conditions on the ground however, appear to be as volatile as the ones existing in 2008 with civil society groups, churches and political parties recording increasing cases of violence and intimidation. On Sunday, Finance minister and MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti was forced to hold a rally in the bush by soldiers and Zanu PF supporters in Darwendale, Mashonaland West Province in a sign of escalating tensions. Daily News