HARARE, 22 October 2010 (IRIN) – A call by President Robert Mugabe to hold national elections in 2011 and end any possibility of extending the government of national unity (GNU) has been greeted with concern by NGOs, fearing a surge in political violence.
“We want to get to elections and get into a situation where ZANU-PF can rule the country. We do not want to pass June  without elections. We want acceleration of the pace [to ensure that the polls are held],” Mugabe, who has been in power since independence from Britain in 1980, told a ZANU-PF women’s league meeting recently.
Zimbabwe’s unity government was formed after the violent parliamentary and presidential elections in 2008, when ZANU-PF lost its parliamentary majority for the first time since independence and Mugabe became president after his main opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and now prime minister, withdrew from the poll in protest against political violence.
Mugabe said elections should be held by June 2011 after the two years of the GNU lifespan expires in February 2011, and has instructed the finance minister, Tendai Biti, to set aside US$200 million to fund the election.
Part of the aim of the unity government was to promote reconciliation and lower political temperatures; the MDC claims more than 200 of its supporters were killed and thousands of others displaced after the 2008 poll.
Tsvangirai has indicated he would favour elections in 2011, but the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), an umbrella body of about 30 NGOs advocating for free and fair polls, said in a statement: “To date [the national healing organ established by the unity government to promote political tolerance] has not been able to make any significant impact on the hostile relations among the people of this country.”
ZESN said political groupings remained “very suspicious of each other” and “the political environment in Zimbabwe remains largely volatile and tense”.
The MDC has in recent months routinely complained that veterans of Zimbabwe’s liberation war aligned to Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party were establishing bases in rural areas to intimidate people.
The MDC claims the war veterans’ president, Jabulani Sibanda, had established a camp in Masvingo Province, where voters switched their support from ZANU-PF to the MDC in 2008, and was forcing people to declare their allegiance to ZANU-PF.
Sibanda has denied the allegations and said his operation, codenamed “Budiranai Pachena” (Declare your Position), was reminding people about the history of Zimbabwe’s liberation wars.
Deployment of soldiers
A May 2010 report by the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CZC) said speculation about elections next year – before Mugabe’s announcement – had already seen an increase in political violence and cited Marambapfungwe, a district in Mashonaland East province, as one area where political tensions had spiked.
The report states: “ZANU-PF has re-launched ‘Operation Surrender’, originally launched during the run-up to the June 2008 election, as a strategy to arm-twist MDC supporters into supporting ZANU-PF [and involved the] training of youths at designated bases and unleashing of violence on villagers.”
CZC said five training camps had been established and some traditional leaders stripped of their authority as they were suspected of supporting the MDC, while “police are allegedly ignoring reports submitted by victims [of political violence], resulting in increased intimidation and harassment”.
The report quoted another human rights organization, Restoration of Human Rights, which said 30 families had been displaced and soldiers deployed in the three districts of Muzabarabani, Shamva and Bindura in the ZANU-PF stronghold of Mashonaland Central province.
A recent CZC statement said “the militarization of the country’s electoral politics should be stopped and all military personnel deployed in communities recalled to barracks”.
Welshman Ncube, secretary-general of an MDC break-away faction led by deputy prime minister Arthur Mutambara, told IRIN: “The whole purpose of the GNU was to secure stability that would lead to democratic elections, but up to this day, we have failed to ensure civil liberties and violence and tension are still rife.”
He said it would take a long time to complete the electoral reform process and should the elections be held in 2011, his party would participate, albeit under protest.
“Violence is our nemesis. Over the past six months, co-operation among the political parties has been undermined, especially by ZANU-PF, which is confrontational, and this has resulted in the deterioration of relations, with Mugabe and Tsvangirai getting angrier with each other,” Ncube said.