Mugabe vows to go to polls on his own

Harare – The embattled Zanu PF leader President Robert Mugabe's plans to hang on to power through early elections this year have been shot down after his negotiators agreed to an election roadmap that would push the ballot well into next year, officials confirmed on Sunday.

Mugabe has vowed that he would force elections to be held by June, without the consent of his partners in the country’s shaky coalition government, stirring widespread fears that the vote would bring another wave of violent mayhem against his pro-democracy opponents.

\r\n

However, the latest development shows that has been Mugabe pushed further into a corner, Western diplomats say, after his Southern African neighbours, led by South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma, last month ordered Mugabe to end the repeated cycles of violence and to carry out the democratic reforms he agreed to at the inception of the coalition government in February 2009.

\r\n

Negotiators from Mugabe’s Zanu(PF) party, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change and the smaller faction of the MDC have been wrestling for more than two years to reach agreement on the wide range of democratic and electoral changes their leaders undertook to carry out, with only a handful of the issues settled. Mugabe was widely accused of stalling on implementation.

\r\n

“The negotiators have agreed on certain milestones which need to be completed before we go to elections,” Edwin Mushoriwa, one of the smaller MDCs negotiators told the German Press Agency Sunday. “If we look at the things agreed, it makes it practically impossible to hold elections this year.”

\r\n

The key issue was on the making of a new democratic constitution, with the three parties still to begin drafting of a new national law from the opinions of thousands of ordinary Zimbabweans heard in countrywide consultations, to be followed by several more rounds of talks to approve the draft, then a referendum, and approval by parliament.

\r\n

“That cannot happen in the course of the year,” Mushoriwa said.

\r\n

Then there are also media reforms and other issues that need to be resolved.

\r\n

Analysts believe that Mugabe can only win elections through a strategy of violent intimidation. In March 2008, the country held its first violence-free ballot since 2000, when Mugabe faced his first real opposition since he came to power in 1980 and he lost, only to force his way back to power in a brutal run-off vote. Opinion polls since then have put Tsvangirai well ahead of the president.

\r\n

Since late last year, human rights monitors have reported that thousands of soldiers and youth militia have been deployed in rural areas all over the country in preparation for Mugabe’s snap vote. Mugabe has banned the MDC form holding meetings and had scores of MDC officials arrested, all familiar pre-election patterns in Zimbabwe.

\r\n

However, Zuma’s officials have said that he and other Southern African leaders would not recognize an election that was not held with the agreement of the two MDC leaders.

\r\n

Observers say that Mugabe’s options are complicated by reports of worsening health. The weekly Standard reported Sunday that last week the 87-year-old authoritarian travelled for the fifth time in four months to Singapore, where he is understood to be receiving medical treatment. – Sapa-dpa