Zanu-PF is demanding the resignation of the head of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, creating an early threat to newly agreed regulations that would bring far-reaching reforms of the way elections are run in the country.
If passed, the Zimbabwe Electoral Amendment Bill, a raft of electoral reforms agreed to by Zanu-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), will remove control of elections from an office run by a long-time ally of President Robert Mugabe and hand it to the commission.
But war veterans, the radical core of Zanu-PF, have put pressure on the head of the commission, retired judge Simpson Mutambanengwe, to step down over alleged criticism of the war veterans’ behaviour and his insistence that Zimbabwe is not ready for elections.
According to the Bill, Mutambanengwe is mandated to run all elections, including a referendum on a new Constitution, expected by year-end, which would pave the way for new elections. The commission will also be responsible for printing and distributing ballot papers and the demarcation of constituencies, a task previously performed by a delimitation commission.
Under the new law the electoral commission will have to release the results of the presidential elections within five days, preventing a repeat of 2008 when it took five weeks before the results were announced.
Observers see the reforms as a major concession by Zanu-PF, which has had a tight hold on the electoral process. For decades elections have been run by the registrar general, Tobaiwa Mudede, a Mugabe supporter. He has also presided over a much-criticised voters’ roll. Last month the South African Institute of Race Relations exposed the fact that an additional 2.6-million voters have appeared on the roll. “Phantom voters” include more than 40 000 people over the age of 100, 17 000 of them born on the same date — January 1 1901.
But Mudede has insisted the voters’ roll is “100% perfect”.
Douglas Mwonzora, the MDC spokesperson, said: “The electoral reforms are the first steps in the right direction and a clear respect of the people’s will.”
But those gains now seem to be linked to Mutambanengwe’s future. One of the founding leaders of Zanu-PF, he was this week described by the party as “a man of questionable moral standing in society”.
‘Matter of urgency’
Leaders of the war veterans said they wanted Mutambanengwe to step down because, at a summit in Europe, he had accused them of violence. Such remarks, they said, were “synonymous with the regime change agenda proponents, hence the need for Justice Mutambanengwe to resign or be fired from the country’s electoral body as a matter of urgency”.
He denied making the comments and said the charges were “a complete falsehood”. But he has previously raised the question of whether Zimbabwe has dealt with its “culture of violence” adequately to allow for free elections.
Mutambanengwe also said that Zimbabwe did not have the money to hold elections, which would require $240-million. He said the commission was “barely surviving”, with only $8.5-million allocated to it.
“It is provided for in the constitution that we have to be adequately funded. If our programmes are held back because the funds are not forthcoming, who should say something about it?” he said this week.
This has angered Zanu-PF, which is still insisting on holding elections despite opposition from rivals and regional leaders. Zanu-PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo said: “We expect someone of his stature to take a balanced view.” Zanu-PF was “monitoring the situation”, he said.
Although Mugabe’s own negotiators have agreed to a provisional road map that will see elections only next year, Mugabe has told his central committee he wants them to be held this year. Mugabe has taunted the MDC, saying they have “tasted the warm sweetness of power” and now want elections suspended indefinitely “and their governorship extended to [the] infinite”.
With his party divided over his succession and dogged by rumours of his ill health, Mugabe is said to be keen to secure a fresh term in office quickly.
Negotiators for the three coalition partners, who met early this month, agreed on a period of 45 days in which new electoral reforms would be put in place. This would be followed by a month of voter education and two months to reform the voters’ roll.