Mugabe shifts ground on election date after South African pressure

2011-06-03 13:03

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe has agreed that snap elections could be postponed to next year, after previously insisting they take place this year, state-controlled media reported today.

The move is seen as a concession to President Jacob Zuma and other regional leaders who have demanded that the next election be free and fair, and held after widespread political reforms.

Mugabe said the nearly three-year-old coalition agreement between him and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai should end this year and be followed immediately by elections, according to the Herald newspaper.

“If we fail, then elections should be held during the first few months next year,” Mugabe said.

There are widespread fears that an election run by Mugabe and the generals who back him would lead to a violent political crackdown on opponents, as seen during the last one in 2008.

The president and hardliners in his Zanu-PF party had insisted on elections – even though the new constitution, being drafted by the parties to the power-sharing government, was not complete.

Mugabe was accused of repeatedly blocking changes to Zimbabwe’s deeply partisan institutions and draconian laws, until southern African leaders rebuked him in March, demanding an end to his delaying tactics.

Rumours circulating this week were that Mugabe was preparing to withdraw from the 15-nation Southern African Development Community, which underwrote the coalition agreement, if it continued to insist he adhere to the wide-reaching changes he signed up to in the agreement.

Western diplomats said Zanu-PF was anxious to hold early elections out of fears over Mugabe’s health.

The 87-year-old leader has made regular visits to Singapore for medical treatment. They pointed out that Zanu-PF was likely to lose a free and fair ballot, after 31 years in power.

Mugabe said he wanted to end the coalition government because Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change did “not want to see the economy prospering,” the Herald reported.

Economists say Mugabe’s policies – dubbed “Mugonomics” – led to the collapse of what had been once one of Africa’s most successful economies.

The national currency collapsed to 4 trillion Zimbabwean dollars to the US dollar, and inflation reached 500 billion per cent. 

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