Fears as Zanu-PF pushes for elections
Harare - A push by veteran President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party for elections before the end of the year has raised fears among Zimbabweans of a spike in political violence that could derail a two-year economic recovery.
Tensions are already high over the drafting of a new constitution that major political parties must agree on before any parliamentary and presidential polls.
Mugabe's advancing years - he turns 88 in February - are causing additional concerns, not least among Zanu-PF followers who fear that question marks over his ability to do the job after 32 years in power may cost it in any election.
That said, Mugabe's main political rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, is facing lurid allegations about his private life that have damaged his reputation as leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
Finance Minister Tendai Biti is budgeting for economic growth of 9.4% this year from 9.3% in 2011, but a fierce contest between Mugabe's Zanu-PF party and the MDC could torpedo that.
Analysts say Mugabe is pressing for polls a year ahead of schedule because of his failing health.
He and Tsvangirai, who were forced into a unity government after violent and disputed polls in 2008, convened a peace summit in November to defuse escalating tensions after clashes between their supporters.
Tsvangirai, who is 18 years younger than Mugabe, believes he will win any free and fair poll, after Zanu-PF intimidation forced him to drop out of a presidential runoff against Mugabe in June 2008.
The acid test for the anti-violence campaign is likely to come closer to the election date, when Zanu-PF tends to mobilise its forces in the form of independence war veterans and youth brigades known as "green bombers".
What to Watch:
- A rise in inter-party violence as the drive for elections picks up steam.
- Public response to calls for joint peace rallies planned by Zanu-PF and the MDC.
- Investors shelving or slowing down on their plans due to jitters over election violence or fear of instability.
Zanu-PF's annual conference in December endorsed Mugabe as its candidate in the next presidential poll, but analysts say he will face a tough battle convincing voters to extend his rule.
Although Zanu-PF officials rally behind Mugabe in public, in private many want him to retire and pass the baton to a younger heir due to fears his age may cost the party victory.
The pressure has intensified since reports, based on a June 2008 US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, that Mugabe is suffering from prostate cancer.
The death of retired general Solomon Mujuru in a fire in August has also changed the party dynamics. Reports say Mujuru, husband of Vice President Joice Mujuru, was pressing Mugabe to step down and that his Zanu-PF faction had courted the MDC.
What to watch:
- Mugabe trying to heal party rifts or anoint a successor.
- How Mujuru's camp regroups, and how Zanu-PF rivals position themselves for power after Mugabe.
Local media reports in the past year said Tsvangirai has made two women pregnant and tried to pay them off. He has so far not denied the charges.
The allegations have provided fodder for his enemies and led some to question his leadership credentials.
What to watch:
- MDC rifts caused by the controversies
Mining and local ownership
Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Minister Saviour Kasukuwere says mining firms have mostly met deadlines for submitting plans on how to transfer a 51 percent stake in their operations to locals.
Some foreign mines with operations in Zimbabwe include Impala Platinum, Aquarius and Rio Tinto , while British banks Barclays and Standard Chartered Bank operate locally.
The heavily criticised law is aimed mainly at mining firms and banks operating in a resource-rich state that has become an economic basket case.
Analysts say it is more likely the cash-strapped government wants to wring concessions from miners such as more cash or mineral rights. This explains why the government is negotiating with individual companies, the analysts say.
In addition, the government unveiled a $4bn budget for 2012, which included an increase in gold and platinum royalties for gold, and banked on $600m in diamond revenues.
What to watch:
- Details of deals struck between government and miners.
- What the government will do to non-complying companies.
Mugabe and Tsvangirai's parties are quarrelling over drafting of a new constitution, with Zanu-PF accusing the MDC of trying to smuggle in a law recognising homosexuals and giving unfettered voting rights to Zimbabweans living abroad.
The final charter is likely to be a compromise between Zanu-PF and MDC, who both lack the two-thirds majority in parliament needed to pass the new supreme law on their own.
A referendum on a draft not backed by either party would likely trigger violence.
Many Zimbabweans want the charter to strengthen the role of parliament, curtail presidential powers and guarantee civil, political and media liberties.
What to watch:
- Zanu-PF reaction to prolonged delays in charter's crafting