Mugabe will scuttle new constitution to avoid elections – Politburo members

The president is concerned that if he cedes power he may face prosecution for violent crackdowns on opponents, the members of the body, the politburo of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party, said. The officials declined to be identified because they aren’t authorized to speak to the press on this matter. The politburo, which has more than 40 members, sets policy for the party.

Robert Mugabe will insist on the Kariba Draft as the main reference document and if he doesn’t get his way, he will use Parliament where the majority of the opposition, the MDC is systematically reduced by trumped up charges and prosecutions and on guard is the Senate which is packed up by Zanu PF thugs ready to scuttle the process.

Negotiations that were due to start on July 10 between the Movement for Democratic Change party and Zanu-PF were postponed, MDC lawmaker, Douglas Mwonzora, said.

An agreement between the rival parties for a coalition government hinges on the talks beginning today, according to Mwonzora.

The collapse of the agreement may reverse gains that include the stabilization of the economy after 10 years of recession and the curbing of an inflation rate that rose to nearly 500 billion percent in September, according to the International Monetary Fund. The inflation was triggered by a scarcity of foreign currency that caused shortages of everything from staple foods to gasoline.

“Any delay will cause a chain reaction of other delays that could scupper the whole power-sharing agreement,” Mwonzora said in an interview from the capital, Harare. “Then we’d be back at square one.”

Political Impasse

Under the coalition agreement, which ended a decade-long political impasse in February, a new constitution must be agreed and elections held within two years of that. Mugabe’s victories in elections against the MDC party led by Morgan Tsvangirai in 2000, 2002, 2005 and last year were described as marred by violence and irregularities by the U.S. and European Union.

Tsvangirai got the most votes in presidential elections in March last year but didn’t win the 50 percent needed to avoid a second round. He boycotted the runoff in June because he said his supporters were being attacked by Mugabe’s backers and the police. Parliamentary elections also held in March 2008 were won by the MDC, costing Zanu-PF its majority for the first time since it took power in 1980.

The coalition government was formed after talks organized by the Southern African Development Community, a group of 15 nations, and led by former South African President, Thabo Mbeki.

The office of South Africa’s President, Jacob Zuma, didn’t respond to e-mailed questions about the delay in talks.

No Opinion

“We are aware of the development,” Michele Montas, spokeswoman for United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said. “The secretary-general has been encouraging democratic progress to be made in Zimbabwe, but that is a matter for the parties, that are now in one government, to discuss. It is not for us to have an opinion at this point.”

The EU supports Tsvangirai, Cristina Gallach, spokeswoman for Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, said in an interview. Tsvangirai travelled to Brussels on June 18.

“We support the prime minister,” she said when asked about the delay to the talks. “We think a lot can be achieved if we are able to move along the lines of what he presented to the EU when he was here.”

Since the government’s formation the country’s economy has improved. Tendai Biti, the finance minister and a member of the MDC, last month forecast that Zimbabwe’s gross domestic product will expand by at least 4 percent this year. The IMF on July 2 said there is evidence of a “nascent economic recovery” and China has agreed to lend Zimbabwe $950 million.

Two More Terms

The benchmark index of the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange has more than tripled since reopening on Feb. 19 with share prices set in U.S. dollars after a three-month closure, according to Renaissance Capital, a Moscow-based investment bank that focuses on emerging markets.

Mugabe, 85, has ruled the country since a civil war that ended white minority rule in 1980, and the MDC is demanding that a new constitution forbid him from running for president again. Mugabe has insisted that the country adopt a draft constitution drawn up last year and now rejected by the MDC that would allow him to serve two more terms.

Patrick Chinamasa, Zanu-PF’s chief negotiator, and Olivia Muchena, a politburo member, didn’t answer calls to their mobile phones seeking comment. Joram Gumbo, Zanu-PF’s chief whip, didn’t answer the phone. Three calls to the phone of George Charamba, Mugabe’s spokesman, were terminated after being answered.

“Delayed Indefinitely”

Calls to Webster Shamu, Zanu-PF’s communications minister, weren’t answered today, while calls to Zanu-PF’s headquarters in Harare also went unanswered. Text messages to the five officials weren’t responded to.

“Zanu-PF wanted the meeting delayed indefinitely, then they changed it to the end of July,” said Mwonzora, who’s the head of an interparty committee on a new constitution. “We have only agreed to delay things” until today.

Mugabe’s concerns about possible prosecution by the International Criminal Court or a new government stem from allegations that he instigated violence ahead of elections over the last decade that caused the death of hundreds of Tsvangirai’s supporters, the politburo officials said.

The president, a member of Zimbabwe’s Shona majority ethnic group, is also concerned about a crackdown on dissidents from the Ndebele people in the 1980s that resulted in the death of about 20,000 civilians, according to an estimate by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, they said. The MDC has not offered Mugabe or his allies an amnesty.

Economic Contraction

Under his rule the country’s economy contracted by 40 percent between 2000 and 2007, according to the IMF.

In 2000, after Mugabe lost a referendum that would have boosted his powers, he initiated a land reform program that involved the often violent seizure of white-owned commercial farms for redistribution to black subsistence farmers.

That slashed income from the country’s biggest export, tobacco, and caused a famine in what had been sub-Saharan Africa’s second-biggest corn exporter as the company couldn’t finance sufficient imports to meet its needs.

About a quarter of the population, estimated by the UN at 12.9 million in 2003, has left the country, with most of them illegally crossing the border into South Africa.

The Zimbabwe dollar became virtually worthless because of inflation and was scrapped earlier this year in favor of the use of currencies such as the U.S. dollar and the South African rand.

While inflation and shortages of equipment and materials led to the closure of many of the country’s mines and businesses, Anglo American Plc, Rio Tinto Group, Old Mutual Plc, Barclays Plc and Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd. have assets in the country.

Zimbabwe has the world’s second-biggest reserves of platinum and chrome after South Africa.