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Zimbabwe is better off holding elections next year

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Message Charles Rukuni
Zimbabwe would be better off if it held both parliamentary and presidential elections next year if it wants to capitalise on the soccer World Cup to be held in South Africa in 2010.

Political and economic analysts said holding the elections in 2010 would be a total disaster because no one would be interested in Zimbabwe because of its history of violence in any run up to elections.

Political commentator and one of President Robert Mugabe's fiercest critics, John Makumbe, said holding the elections might give investors direction because President Robert Mugabe's latest cabinet reshuffle had clearly demonstrated that he had run out of ideas to turn around the country's ailing economy.

Management consultant Luxon Zembe said no one quarrelled with the harmonisation of elections because Zimbabwe was perpetually holding elections and therefore did not have any time to devote to solving its economic problems.

The Zimbabwe Election Supervisory Network (ZESN) said the harmonisation of elections was a noble idea but there had to be a distinction between harmonisation of elections and extension of the presidential term of office.

"ZESN appreciates fully that the costs of running a national election are significant. However, the process of harmonisation needs to be undertaken in a manner which exacts the least cost on democracy," the organisation said

"Periodic elections through which citizens participate to authorise politicians to act on their behalf are an essential tenet of democracy," it went on. "ZESN is therefore of the view that the Presidential election due in 2008 must go ahead in order to seek a fresh mandate from the people, who should determine the socio-economic and political path of the nation."

Zembe said harmonisation of elections was a noble concept cost-wise but this was not just in terms of money, but also in terms of political bickering and tension as well as human suffering that accompanied every election.

"Our biggest problem is that we are perpetually holding elections and because of the political bickering, tension and human suffering that accompanies every election campaign, no one is focussing on the economy," he said.

Zimbabwe held parliamentary elections in 2000, which were among the most violent, because of the emergency of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) which almost swept the poll.

There were three parliamentary by-elections in 2001 which were even more violent because the ruling ZANU-PF, now knew how popular the opposition was. The same year also saw the holding of local government elections in Bulawayo which were swept by the MDC.

In 2002, the country held presidential elections as well as rural district council elections. There were two parliamentary by-elections in Harare the following year as well as urban council elections in 21 of the 26 councils.

There were three parliamentary by-elections in 2004 which were widely seen as a litmus test for the 2005 parliamentary elections which to everyone's surprise were won by ZANU-PF giving it a two-thirds majority.

There was yet another national election last year, that for the re-introduced senate. It was, once again, won by the ruling party which was now facing a weakened opposition since the MDC had split into two.

Zembe said if Zimbabwe decided to postpone next year's presidential elections to 2010, the World Cup would be crowded out by the elections and the country would miss out on a fortune that could be derived from tourism.

The World Cup is a cash cow. The International Football Association (FIFA) raised Euro1.9 billion (about US$2.5 billion) in marketing revenue and Euro700m (US$919.4) from sponsorship from the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

"Business is already booming in South Africa. People are making their bookings for 2010 but nothing is coming our way. Industry is now operating at 20 percent of capacity. If we want to cash in on the World Cup we should move forward the parliamentary elections and hold both presidential and parliamentary elections next year so that we can focus on the economy in the run up to the 2010 World Cup," Zembe said.

Zembe, who is one of the key players in the National Economic Development Priority Programme (NEDPP) that was meant to fast-track economic recovery, said right now there was nothing to show that the country's economy could be turned around. Inflation continued to soar and government spending continued to balloon.

He said while the fusion of new and old blood was necessary, it was more important to replace old blood with new blood.

"When you bring in new blood, you retire old blood. Right now, no one is retiring and it's not because these old people have nothing to do or may face economic hardship. They have farms and businesses. In fact, they are spending more time on their private businesses than on government business. We need to be replacing people not adding them," Zembe said.

He said that though some people might argue that it would be too expensive to hold elections next year, this would be a worthwhile expense as it would give the country five-years to work on its economy undisturbed by any elections.

Makumbe said while holding elections next year made sense, he did not see President Mugabe agreeing to this.

"Mugabe's biggest problem right now is that he does not trust anyone. He believes he was messed up by (Emmerson) Mnangagwa in 2004. And last year he was messed up by (Solomon) Mujuru. So he wants to hang on while he looks for a suitable successor," Makumbe said.

He, however, said the economy and Mugabe's own lieutenants would not allow him to hang-on.

"Right now Mugabe's worst enemy is the economy. Things are getting from bad to worse and there is no sign that things will improve. Now his lieutenants are putting pressure on him to step down because they want to protect their business interests. The MDC has been reduced to a spectator," he said.

Zembe, however, said the economy could be turned around easily as long as people were committed.

"A lot of people have asked me why I continue to work with the NEDPP when the situation looks so hopeless and I have told them, there is no hopeless situation. There are only hopeless people. It is these people that we must get rid of to turn around our economy," he said.

"Political leadership is not about people or personalities. It is about a way of thinking, a way of giving direction and motivating people. This is the kind of leadership we need, not to perpetuate a process that is not giving us any results.

"We have a culture of rewarding submissiveness and conformity instead of developing a culture that rewards creativity and innovation."
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Rukuni is currently the Bulawayo Bureau chief of the Financial Gazette , a weekly paper. He has freelanced extensively for The Voice (South Africa), Gemini News Service (London) , Africa Magazine (London), The Daily Nation (Kenya), Radio (more...)
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