President Robert Mugabe’s desperate push for early elections this year yesterday suffered a major dent when the United Nations warned that holding the polls before reforms would be “suicidal”.
UN Human Rights High Commissioner Navanethem Pillay, who was in the country at the invitation of the inclusive government, made the damning assessment at the end of her five-day visit.
Pillay also warned strongly against the involvement of the military in politics. She referred to recent to statements by army generals supporting Zanu PF and attacking Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the MDC-T.
Justice and Legal Affairs minister Patrick Chinamasa had said government invited Pillay to assess the human rights situation in the country because it had nothing to hide.
UN endorsement of any future elections is crucial for Mugabe, who was isolated by the international community for alleged electoral fraud and human rights violations until he formed the inclusive government in 2009.
Pillay warned a disputed election would be in the offing if the reforms that the 88-year-old leader has threatened to bypass were not implemented.
“Unless the parties agree quickly on some key major reforms and there is a distinct shift in attitude, the next election — which is due sometime in the coming year — could turn into a repeat of the 2008 elections which resulted in rampant politically-motivated human rights abuses — including killings, torture, rape, beatings, arbitrary detention, displacements and other violations,” the former South African High Court judge told journalists in Harare.
“I believe it is essential that a satisfactory new constitution with an entrenched Bill of Rights is in place soon, so that the referendum to confirm it and all the electoral reforms necessary for a peaceful, free and fair election can be carried out before people go to the polls.”
Pillay also warned against rushed reforms in apparent reference to Mugabe and Zanu PF’s relentless push for elections this year.
“Realistically, this will take time, but it will be more important to get it right than to rush the process,” she said, adding that government must give the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission more time to update the voters’ roll, carry out the delimitation exercise and supervise the referendum on the constitution before the elections.
Mugabe has repeatedly warned he would call for elections with or without a new constitution.
Zanu PF has also put a spirited resistance to calls for more electoral and security reforms ahead of the polls.
Meanwhile, Pillay lambasted the military for meddling in politics, saying the Zimbabwe Constitution specified that the army must be apolitical.
“I have heard much concern expressed about the role of the military, including a recent statement by one of the country’s most senior army officers suggesting the army should throw its weight behind one political party – when for any country to be called a democracy, its army must observe strict political neutrality,” she said.
The MDC-T has in the past accused the security forces of embarking on a violent crackdown of its supporters to aid Zanu PF’s electoral chances.