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No time for vital reforms

Mark Caldwell
July 24, 2013

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe appears to be bowing to pressure to postpone the country's elections. Regional body SADC has recommended they should be held later than 31 July, the date announced by Mugabe.

Annie Barbara Chikwanha, senior researcher at the South Africa Institute of International Affairs.
Annie Barbara ChikwanhaImage: Annie Barbara Chikwanha

Zimbabwe's constitutional court had ruled the polls must take place by 31 July 2013, but the regional block SADC said at the weekend Zimbabwe should ask for the deadline to be postponed. DW spoke to Anne Chikwanha, a senior researcher at the South African Institute for International Affairs.

DW: Do you think the deadline of October 31st suggested by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is realistic?

Anne Chikwanha: It makes a little more sense, but here you must also look at the fact that that will give the MDC the advantage that the world's attention will be focused on Zimbabwe during the United Nations Tourism Conference, hence that will be a deterrent against any potential violence from the other side. So I think MDC is simply positioning itself to take advantage of that situation, the attention on Zimbabwe.

What are the main logistical challenges that have to be tackled if an election is to be successful in Zimbabwe? 

To begin with, there's the issue of money. We are still not too sure where the money is going to come from because, if the president was quite sure that the elections will be held on the 31st, then he must have had something lined up regarding the mobilization of the resources for the elections. And we have repeatedly heard Mr. Patrick Chinamasa (a leading member of Mugabe's ZANU-PF) saying they will be able to mobilize the money, there is no doubt that there is the money in Zimbabwe that could be successfully mobilized and channeled towards the elections. But it remains questionable. But then you know that ZANU-PF has the upper hand in regard to control of the money in the country. As a result they can simply pull out the money saved for the country and pay for the elections. But a bigger challenge is to do with electoral processes. The fact that the electoral playing field hasn't been leveled through the security sector reforms, through the media reforms, even through the proper reformation of the Electoral Act itself. Those are the main challenges because the parliament won't have time to look at the Electoral Act in these remaining two weeks. They haven't even started doing that. And remember, parliament can't be extended except in the event of a war or state of emergency. So unless there will be a state of emergency, then it will be difficult after 29 June. Which parliament will be there to pass those acts?

What is the situation as far as observers are concerned?

It looks like only SADC observers and African Union observers will be going to Zimbabwe and of course the usual domestic observers. I think they allowed a lot more of those local actors to participate in the last referendum. So I think we are unlikely to see international observers from outside Africa being invited to observe the elections. There hasn't been any mention of that and SADC has been very careful not to mention that or encourage opening up for scrutiny by international observers other than SADC and the African Union.

Is the postponement likely to affect the outcome of these elections, or is it simply impossible to say?

I think this is about just the process, but I think the outcome itself will not be fairly balanced. I think both parties will have to work together. If you look at previous polls  that have been conducted even by the mass public opinion institute based in Zimbabwe, it shows a very narrow margin between the two major parties. Whether it is ZANU that has a victory, then it will be a very small margin victory, which means they can't go it alone, they will still have to go into a unity government, some sort of putting together arrangement which will be on the terms of  Zimbabweans as opposed to being externally imposed by SADC or the African Union.

Anne Chikwanha is a senior researcher at the South African Institute for International Affairs.

Interview: Mark Caldwell

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