Poll fears douse Xmas cheer

gnu_cartoonHARARE With a few days to go before Christmas, Zimbabweans are once again in a celebratory mood but beneath the facade of feverish shopping and merrymaking lies a deep-seated fear of the unknown.

For the second time in a decade, Zimbabweans are enjoying the fruits of a shaky coalition government formed last year by long-time rivals President Robert Mugabe and former opposition leader now Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. The Yuletide fever has gripped most towns and cities, with the capital Harare teeming with shoppers looking for Christmas goodies or so-called Chinese bargains.

The capitals central business district is choked with traders, shoppers, vehicles, pickpockets and push-cart transporters trying to outwit each other. There is so much variety this time around and we are looking forward to a better Christmas, said Esther Moyo as she assisted her three children select presents in a Harare department store at the weekend. She said compared to last year, prices of non-food items were more competitive, especially if one shopped around.

GPA cant continue

The more modest shoppers could be seen preparing for a rainy day. Yes we have bought the usual Christmas niceties but we have also not lost sight of our other needs after all the excitement is gone. So we are here to buy school uniforms for the children because you never know what the future has in store for us, father of two Titus Chiweshe told The Zimbabwean.

The Christmas excitement belies a fear of what the New Year holds for the troubled southern African nation where the thunder of war drums has already started resonating amid uncomfortable talk of new elections in 2011. For most Zimbabweans the Festive mood is quickly soured by prospects of a return to elections, most likely mid next year, which is again expected to be a two-man race between Mugabe and Tsvangirai. The fear is not without basis.

Mugabe told his supporters last week that Zimbabwe’s experimentation with the coalition regime has not worked and that fresh polls must take place next year to replace the Southern African Development Community (SADC)-sponsored power-sharing arrangement or global political agreement (GPA). “The GPA can’t be allowed to continue,” he told the annual Zanu (PF) conference held in Mutare last week.

Brokered by former South African President Thabo Mbeki on behalf of SADC in September 2008, the GPA joined Zanu (PF) and Tsvangirais MDC-T in a shaky unity government that was formed in February 2009. The two men have been at loggerheads since the marriage of convenience amid mounting tension in a country where Mugabe’s opponents say

hundreds of political activists were killed during the last presidential election in 2008.

The veteran leader, who at one time precariously hung onto power after being defeated by Tsvangirai in general elections in 2008 but has increasingly regained his confidence, wants elections held by next June to end the fragile unity government.

Electoral safeguards

Tsvangirai wants electoral safeguards to be put in place first, chiefly a SADC-drafted elections roadmap to ensure the next polls are conducted in a manner that meets international and regional best practices. Pursuant to the aborted extra-ordinary meeting of the SADC Organ Troika of the 20th of November 2010, council calls on SADC to immediately reconvene the aborted meeting to discuss the following:

(i) the outstanding (GPA) issues, (ii) the roadmap to elections, and (iii) toxic issues, including the issue of violence, deployment, of security agents in the countryside and a corrosive media, Tsvangirai said after a meeting of the MDC-T national executive last Thursday.

Zimbabwes elections in the last 10 years have been anything but peaceful, always ending in dispute, with accusations of rigging and violence directed against the 86-year-old Mugabe and his party. The last run-off election was marked by violence perpetrated by Mugabes shock troops, war veterans and youth militia and members of the military, which shocked even the most neutral African leaders and forced SADC to intervene.

A worried Chiweshe feared that holding elections under the current conditions characterised by violence and intimidation would negate the gains from the 22-month-old political stability ushered in by the coalition government. We hope that our leaders will come to their senses and do what is right for the very people they purport to serve. There is no need in

scoring cheap political goals and shunting another election our way, he said.

Besides the customary violence that accompanies the elections, another big depressant for Zimbabwean revellers is the possibility of a return to shortages of almost everything, including salt and banknotes.

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