IRIN Focus on legislative elections

Reformers within Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF want President Robert Mugabe and the current leadership to stand down to allow
for the party's "rejuvenation" ahead of presidential elections in 2002, political analysts told IRIN.

The debate within ZANU-PF following its dramatic referendum defeat over its draft constitution earlier this month has focussed on the perceived liability of the leadership, insiders said. There has reportedly been calls from within the party for Mugabe, 76, to set a date for his retirement, but he has so far refused to announce explicit plans or to name a successor.

ZANU-PF Chairman John Nkomo has denied there are any moves within the party to pressure Mugabe into retirement. "Only about two months ago he was retained as president of the party, meaning that the party has confidence in him," he told IRIN.

Mugabe and the "old guard"

In Zambia on Wednesday for talks on the Congo conflict, Mugabe told reporters: "My term ends in two years' time and from there I will see (what to do)." In repeated press statements Mugabe has made it clear that the decision rests with him alone, but would be dictated by the interests of the party.

However, according to Jonathan Moyo, spokesman for the state-appointed Constitutional Commission and ardent government-defender, Mugabe has already "indicated" that he will not stand for presidential elections in 2002. Moyo told IRIN that the need to prepare a "careful transition" without encouraging factionalism within ZANU-PF means that any announcement has to
be "in a manner protective of the party's interests."

But, he added, "his (Mugabe's) time has come, and his intentions might be a liability if they are not clear." With legislative elections due in April, "it's important for the party to project the way forward."

Political scientist Masipula Sithole at the University of Zimbabwe agrees. "I think President Mugabe has overstayed his welcome. He's a liability to his own party and to the country. The only hope ZANU-PF has of winning is if Mugabe announces his retirement and is replaced by a rejuvenated leadership
that could give his party hope."

A new ZANU-PF

Moyo believes that over the past decade of economic reforms, "the
ideological thrust of the party has been weakened. There is a need for a different vision, a different leadership ... The issue is whether we'll see now a rigorous and vigorous democratisation of ZANU-PF." He added that "the old guard" which has held the leadership from the liberation struggle days
"will have to leave in droves" replaced by a "new patriotism for this country".

On fears of splits within ZANU-PF as a result of a reform agenda and Mugabe's refusal to name a successor, Sithole said: "They are damned if they do and damned if they don't." He said he could foresee three scenarios for the party. A new ZANU-PF, a weakened faction-ridden party, or an unchanged "geriatric" ZANU-PF. "The situation is pregnant with these three tendencies," he added.

"Obviously we live in a dynamic world of constant changes," Nkomo said. "The issue is about managing change in order to be relevant and we will continue to do that. We don't need any advise from any institution."

ZANU-PF, the embodiment of the liberation struggle which won independence for Zimbabwe, has ruled virtually unchallenged since 1980. However, over the past decade opposition voices have gathered strength over the party's alleged authoritarianism, corruption, and particularly its perceived mismanagement of the economy. In 1995, 62 percent of Zimbabweans were assessed as living below the poverty datum line. According to UNDP's 1998
Human Development Report, only 1.5 million people out of a population of 12.2 million were in formal sector employment in 1997.

A new challenge

The government now faces its most serious political challenge since independence from the labour-linked Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Analysts believe MDC, formed only last year, is likely to retain momentum from its 55/45 percent referendum victory over the government.

Nkomo, however, denied the 12-13 February referendum result was a setback for the government or an indication of voting patterns in the forthcoming election. He said that the draft constitution, prepared by a government-appointed commission and championed by the party was "not a ZANU-PF document". He argued that the referendum was on the draft alone, and "was not a referendum on the party".

ZANU-PF controls all but two seats in parliament. In a constitutional provision that further entrenches Mugabe's power, he in effect appoints 30 MPs in the 150-seat parliament - 12 directly as non-constituency MPs, and eight as provincial governors who also sit in parliament. Ten chiefs are also elected by their peers, but all are ZANU-PF members.

Political analysts believe that the next parliament is likely to be different. The MDC links labour and civil society groups in a broad front of opposition focussing on issues of governance and the economy. Although urban-based, the referendum result suggests that it has made inroads into ZANU-PF's key rural constituencies where the bulk of voters live. "MDC is strong nationally, it is the only big opposition party in Zimbabwe," Sithole said.

"For the first time there is likely to be a strong opposition in parliament, it will be a major change in the political landscape," Brian Raftopoulos of the Institute of Development Studies told IRIN. "It will redefine post-colonial nationalism, not one that is authoritarian, but offering one open to pluralist conceptions of national belonging."

If the February referendum was an election, analysts claim that ZANU-PF would have lost approximately 58 seats. "It would not have the constitutionally significant two-thirds majority it has now, it would need to negotiate with the opposition," human rights activist Simeon Mwanza told IRIN. He said change can already be detected since the referendum. In what has traditionally been a supine parliament, "some MPs are becoming bolder".

There has been speculation that Mugabe may postpone the legislative elections until later in the year in an attempt to derail MDC's momentum. But Moyo rejected the idea of a delay. "The urgency of some of our problems - energy supplies, unemployment - means a delay would do a disservice to these issues," he said. "There is no administrative and no constitutional reason, so let's go ahead."

Rigging fears

He also dismissed opposition claims that elections held under the current electoral law, which do not allow for an independent supervisory body, would facilitate rigging by the government. "The bottom line is that it is such a highlighted issue, all eyes will be on it, and I have no doubt the election
will have to be managed transparently."

Sithole stressed that anything less than a manifestly free and fair poll would lead to a storm of protest that "would make Zimbabwe ungovernable". That, some analysts fear, could trigger the military's intervention. According to Raftopoulos: "If the MDC emerges as a strong party the army would stay out of it. But if the situation of a political vacuum arose, they could step in. This transition must be done in an orderly way to keep the
army out of politics."

But the key issue over the fairness of the ballot remains the updating of the voters' roll. At the end of last year, a UN technical team estimated that 25 percent of people on the voters' roll were deceased, and that two million out of 5.8 million potential voters had moved constituencies since
the last legislative election in 1995. February's referendum was conducted on the basis of identity documents rather than registered voters. An important test of the MDC's organisational abilities, therefore, is whether it can persuade people to register in time for the April poll.

However, whatever new party faces appear in the next parliament, Mugabe retains the trump card of what has been described as an imperial presidency. Under Zimbabwe's much amended Lancaster House constitution, the legislature is subordinate to the executive. Under the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act, Mugabe can unilaterally declare an emergency for a period of
up to 14 days and rule by decree and cancel any law.

Constitutional

Amendment 10 grants the president sole power to dissolve parliament and to appoint or remove any ministers.

But according to Mwanza, Mugabe may well now be thinking of his place in history. "The message has got through to him that people are unhappy. I think he would try and come up with something that will try and win something for himself as an individual."

Mwanza added: "There is a lot of opportunity for change. The question is how people are going to do it, to see the way to bring this country together and to take it forward."

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