ZIMBABWE will not be ready for a presidential election until at least June because it needs a new constitution and democratic reforms to ensure a fair and undisputed poll, MDC-T secretary-general and Finance minister Tendai Biti told Reuters in England on Thursday.
Report by Reuters
President Robert Mugabe, one of Africa’s longest serving rulers accused of hanging on to power through vote-rigging, has called for a new election in March.
But coalition partners including Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Mugabe’s old rival, want a new constitution and electoral and media reforms after a violent and disputed poll in 2008 that was condemned by much of the world.
“Zimbabwe clearly is not ready for an election,” Biti told Reuters late on Thursday during a visit to the University of Manchester in northern England.
“It’s impossible to have an election in March,” he said, arguing that the newly drafted constitution, as well as electoral and media reforms, would need to be introduced first to ensure the result of the poll was “credible, legitimate and sustainable”.
Mugabe (88) has been in power since independence from Britain in 1980, pushing through policies including the seizure of white-owned farms and forcing foreign firms to hand over majority stakes to local blacks.
His party, Zanu PF, endorsed him again as presidential candidate at its annual congress yesterday. Biti said he hoped a referendum on the constitution could be held in the first quarter of 2013, paving the way for an election between June and August.
“We will limp our way to some form of acceptable agreement,”he said. “Our people are tired. They want a solution. They want peace. So I think we will reach an agreement because everyone is exhausted.”
Biti called on Zimbabwe’s neighbours and international partners — starting with South African President Jacob Zuma – to play an active role in ensuring the process goes smoothly and help support the cost of the referendum and election, estimated at between $150 million and $250 million.
But many fear a disputed election could trigger a new crisis for a country that has been struggling to pay back a $10 billion debt and whose $3,8 billion annual budget is cannibalsed by government wages, leaving little room for investments in infrastructure and growth policies.
Biti has already slashed his 2012 economic growth forecasts twice in recent months, down to 4,4%, from 9,3% in 2011, reflecting the impact of a poor agricultural season and depressed commodity prices.