Zimbabwe government in turmoil as elections loom
Legislators have yet to rewrite Zimbabwe's constitution more than two years after a historic power-sharing agreement between longtime enemies. At least a quarter of the people on the country's voter lists are in fact dead.
In recent months, Zimbabwe's government has been paralysed by fresh disputes and bickering over power-sharing ahead of proposed elections. President Robert Mugabe joined forces with the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in an unlikely coalition government after violence-plagued elections in 2008.
At present, "nothing is happening. Little work is being done," said John Makumbe, a political scientist at the main Zimbabwe university.
Mugabe wants to hold a vote this year to end the tumultuous power-sharing government with Tsvangirai. But the prime minister's party says real reform is needed before such an election can be held.
Now authorities are arresting ministers who don't belong to Mugabe's party. Some Mugabe hardliners are even calling for the longtime opposition leader-turned-prime minister to be charged with treason.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said Tuesday that police are following a "well-laid plan" to clamp down on Mugabe's opponents, including a slew of recent arrests of ministers and officials of the former opposition.
Makumbe said the clampdown against ministers in Tsvangirai's party in recent weeks is likely meant to provoke Tsvangirai into pulling out of the coalition so that early elections can be held.
Mugabe has called for elections this year to bring the coalition to an end once and for all.
But Tsvangirai is unlikely to pull out. He has repeatedly vowed at recent meetings and rallies that his party will not withdraw, even if he is arrested, jailed or killed.
Regional leaders and the chief mediator on Zimbabwe, South African President Jacob Zuma, also insist free and fair elections cannot be held this year until electoral and constitutional reforms are completed.
Tsvangirai's party is demanding a complete overhaul of the voters' register before any polls.
Earlier this month, coalition negotiators agreed on what they called a "roadmap" to elections that included reforms of the media and security laws by the end of this year. But Mugabe's negotiators ruled out reforms of the security and intelligence services demanded by Tsvangirai to make them independent and nonpartisan.
A forensic analysis of existing voters lists by computer experts has shown wide disparities - up to 25 percent of named voters are dead and the lists include nonagenarians and centenarians presumed dead as well as children under the voting age of 18.
Still, negotiators slated elections before the end of next year, depending on how and when other conditions are met, leaving the actual date unspecified.
But Zimbabwe's political future remains unknown as infighting persists.
Hardliners of Mugabe's party have called for the prime minister to be tried on treason charges over his party's links with Western nations that seek Mugabe's ouster after years of violations of human and democratic rights. Military chiefs and former guerrillas in the bush war that swept Mugabe to power in 1980, have refused to salute Tsvangirai, calling him a security threat.
Makumbe said if Mugabe destroyed the coalition, called elections on his own terms and stayed in control, southern Africa would "wash its hands of him," and the 87-year-old would risk further international isolation, along with isolation from key African allies for the first time.
"He will not get away with it. It wouldn't be recognised. The biggest problem would then be our neighbours closing their borders," Makumbe said.