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Tsvangirai speaks on elections

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PRIME Minister Morgan Tsvangirai recently spoke to the Zambian Post newspaper about the country’s preparedness to hold elections, the MDC-T on-going primary elections and the forthcoming SADC summit. Below are excerpts of the interview.

Post: Prime Minister, how ready is Zimbabwe for elections? President Robert Mugabe signed the Constitution a few weeks ago.
Tsvangirai: Zimbabwe will be ready for elections this year. But there are a number of reforms that are necessary before that election can be conducted in terms of the agreed steps. There are legal and political reforms that are necessary as we go towards the elections.

Post: What are those legal issues?
Tsvangirai: We need to have one month voter registration, at least one month. Then to be followed by one month voter inspection. Then you need another 45 days’ notice. Whether that notice proclamation of date of election will be done concurrently with these exercises is another matter.

But as far as we are concerned, those are the legal steps. However, there are political reforms that are necessary that we agreed before and are necessary. Key among them is the issue of media reforms, the issue . . . now that the Constitution has been signed, it binds our security sector to conditions that will act as a realignment because one of the key factors as far as this sector is concerned is that they have to be professional and non-partisan.

So I hope that the new Constitution will set in the new rules. Besides, we need a code of conduct for this sector. Then you have got the issues that I have just talked about. Then you have got the issues of ensuring that the environment is freed from violence. The hygiene issues of how we ensure that people are able to express themselves.

So I think overall, we are ready for elections. But I think these needs are preconditions to conduct a free and fair, credible, legitimate elections.

Post: There are people like Dr Ibbo Mandaza and Professor Lovemore Mudhuku who are cautiously optimistic about this new Constitution. And more so that these elections will be conducted under the old and new Constitutions.
Tsvangirai: Well, there are some aspects of the old Constitution that will transit into the new Constitution. But there are other realignments of laws that are mandatory because of the changes in the new Constitution.

For instance, we moved away from a constituency-based elections to a hybrid of constituencies and proportional representation. Those changes have to be effected. And for us, they are part of the electoral amendments that are coming and other laws that impinge on the right of people to have free expression like Posa (Public Order and Security Act), AIPPA (Access to Information and Privacy Protection Act), these are laws that need certainly to be adjusted to the new constitutional dispensation.

Post: The President also spoke about Sadc helping to mobilise resources for Zimbabwe for elections. I read that other organsations such as the UN and Western agencies are not welcome in terms of contributing resources?
Tsvangirai: Beggars are no choosers as far as I’m concerned. Zimbabwe cannot choose who gives them money for elections. And besides, let me correct one impression. Sadc is not convening a summit to mobilise resources for Zimbabwe elections.
Sadc is going to be convened because you need a summit to assess the preparedness of Zimbabwe election conditions. It is something that we have talked about to Sadc leaders and they all agree that there is need for that summit to take place in order to have that evaluation.

The question of funding will be part of that discussion, but we already have an offer from UNDP. Why are we not accepting that offer? Why are we putting preconditions to people who are offering us help? So as far as my party is concerned, we should accept UNDP funding.
It is an international United Nations body. Why should we shun that?

Post: Probably they are looked at as an imperialist organisation. And President Mugabe yesterday was talking about people rejecting you and MDC-T so that they don’t derail the gains from independence. And why is it that there is always the imperialist tag on you from Zanu PF?
Tsvangirai: You see the problem with Zanu PF and President Mugabe in particular, one can forgive them for burying their heads in the sand. They think that the country cannot move forward because of the liberation struggle. The liberation struggle was meant to free Zimbabweans. It’s over.

What we should be talking about is economic empowerment, economic upliftment and progress. Those are the challenges of the future. The young unemployed, the economic malaise that has gripped this country, those are the issues.
It’s not about whether anyone can betray the country. We are all patriotic. And patriotism is not measured by one party. It’s measured by everyone. Everyone wants to see the best of this country.

So the question of challenging people’s patriotism and patriotic commitment, I think is a misdirection. And to say that people should vote always remembering that they were colonised is just archaic and it’s not the real issue.

Ask the people, what are their aspirations and expectations of the current situation. They will tell you that unemployment is a big challenge. That economic decline is the one that has affected Zimbabweans, corruption is the issue, so those are the issues that we should focus on. Who has the best plan to deal with these issues?

Post: Prior to the Global Political Agreement (GPA) of September 15, 2008, the main issue was the incumbent not accepting results. For instance the results were first delayed, then violence followed and you pulled out of the elections.
Another issue was that some army officers were saying they will never salute you even if you won. After these elections, it’s winner-takes-all and there won’t be any position of Prime Minister or the GPA. Do you think political players will accept victory and defeat?
Tsvangirai: Well, we talk about the protection of the security of the vote and security of the outcome of elections. Which means that it must be respected. This is what Sadc expects, this is what AU expects. For anyone to refuse to accept the mandate of the people is undemocratic. Not only that, but it is against any norms and standards that Sadc would have set. Or it is tantamount to a coup.

Post: You are having these internal party elections. How free and fair are they because I have seen that there are some
problems?
Tsvangirai: Well, I want to tell you one thing. Sometimes you are misled by what you read in the State newspapers. Ask us how it is going.

Post: How is it going?
Tsvangirai: Well, the internal primary elections are going on very well. We have had the most democratic expression by our members. There is an electoral college for each constituency. There are teams that are there. All candidates so far have accepted that so far this is the most democratic open process. If we can do this in the national context, then Zimbabwe will be on an irreversible path to democratic culture.

Post: Now Zimbabwe’s relationship with Zambia . . . when Sata won as President, you congratulated him.
Tsvangirai: Yes, we did.

Post: But after that he undertook a tour to Zimbabwe where he spoke against MDC-T and other issues . . .
Tsvangirai: Well, we as MDC believe in good neighbourliness. We don’t believe we choose people’s presidents in Zambia or anywhere else. We believe that the people must have unimpeded right to choose their leaders.
Once they have chosen their leaders, who are we to question their wisdom? So we can relate to anyone. I have no problems with President Sata. We have interacted every time we have met.

Post: His closeness with President?
Tsvangirai: President Mugabe? It doesn’t affect me at all. Is it a policy relationship or a personal relationship? Does Zambia change its policy towards Zimbabwe because President Mugabe and President Sata have a cosy relationship?

Post: But these leaders label MDC-T as a Western party?
Tsvangirai: Well, this is the nationalist mantra, which does not go with the current. There is no East or West. We are part of the global village. We are an independent country. We relate to all and everybody. But what should be at the forefront of our policy thrust is Zimbabwe’s interest.
We engage anyone, West, East on the basis: are they promoting Zimbabwe’s interest, political, economic and social interest? So if President Sata or anyone is against the West, that is their problem. It’s not our problem.
Right! Diplomatically, we engage Chinese, we engage the Americans, we engage the Europeans and for me that’s how it should be. That’s how we should define our foreign policy. That our foreign policy must be defined by the economic and political interest of Zimbabwe.

Post: Zambia is selling Zimbabwe maize on a government-to-government contract. But (Finance) minister Tendai Biti was against that kind of contract; that the maize might be used for political appeasement.
Tsvangirai: Well, well, the thing is if the government of Zimbabwe is buying maize from the government of Zambia to feed Zimbabweans, how can that be abused by any political party for that matter or anybody to exploit that as if it’s a political initiative of any particular individual?

It’s the government of Zimbabwe which is buying maize to feed its people. That’s how it should be. We have had experiences in this country where food has been used as a political weapon. But this time around we will be vigilant to ensure that food gets to the people that need it because it is government food.

Post: Finally, what is your message to Sadc as Zimbabwe goes to the polls?
Tsvangirai: Well, as Zimbabwe moves towards elections, we should learn from our past. First, that according to Sadc rules for elections, Sadc standards for elections, Zimbabwe must comply with those standards.
Second, that the curatorship of this political transition is under the auspices of Sadc. So they have to accept that they have a responsibility of ensuring that elections are conducted in a free and fair and credible way.
Lastly, it’s Sadc’s responsibility to ensure that we resolve the political crisis in Zimbabwe for the sake of economic benefits for everyone.

Zimbabwe has become an albatross to the whole Sadc region because of the economic malaise that is crippling this country. That has affected Zimbabwe. And so Zimbabwe cannot affect the whole region, must not be allowed to affect the whole region.

It must be the engine of also contributing to the economic growth and prosperity of the region. So it’s a very heavy responsibility on the part of Sadc leaders to ensure that they nest this process to reach its logical conclusion and that conclusion is that the people of Zimbabwe must be given an opportunity to choose their leadership. That will be the end of the political crisis in Zimbabwe.

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