It is now official. While the local and international media are debating Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe’s retirement and succession, his party, ZANU-PF, is already gearing itself for the 2005 Parliamentary elections. Mugabe, who has been on a nationwide tour, in which he is concentrating on his rural stronghold, is urging peasant farmers to retain his party in office so that he can consolidate his controversial land reform programme which has seen about 300 000 families resettled on about 11 million hectares of land taken from mainly white farmers.
Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa said the government was gearing up for the elections because there was need to prepare a new voters’ roll which will take into consideration the massive movement of people due to the land reform programme.
Before elections are held, the government has to register all the voters with those who have moved constituencies indicating so and new voters coming in. The exercise is crucial to free and fair elections as it is at this stage that vote rigging begins. Voters can be intimidated into not registering, especially in areas where the ruling party feels unsafe.
Voter registration is followed by delimitation of constituencies, with new boundaries being set up. In the past, the ruling party has been accused of tampering with this by combining areas where it has little support with those where it has strong support.
Though Mugabe’s term of office ends in 2008, the 2005 parliamentary elections are crucial because a win by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) could trigger a constitutional crisis that might force Mugabe to step down.
Under the present constitution, Mugabe is both head of state and government. If the MDC wins the parliamentary elections Mugabe will have to appoint a head of government from the MDC which will not want Mugabe to remain President as the President has too much power which will render the ruling party useless.
The draft constitution, which was rejected by the people in 2000, had a provision for a Prime Minister, which would have enabled a Prime Minister and a President to come from different parties, but the people felt the President was too powerful to enable the Prime Minister to function.
ZANU-PF barely scraped through the 2000 parliamentary elections winning 62 out of the 120 contested seats. With more people migrating to urban areas, the MDC’s stronghold, because of two successive droughts, the opposition party could upset the cart unless the resettlement programme is a success and lures a lot of people from urban to rural areas.
But while the ruling party is free to campaign and has the state machinery at its disposal, the MDC is currently crippled because its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, secretary-general, Welshman Ncube, and secretary for agriculture, Renson Gasela, are on trial for treason for allegedly plotting to assassinate Mugabe.
Tsvangirai has further been charged with treason for calling for the removal of Mugabe through mass action. This will further cripple him, as he will not be able to campaign because he will be gagged by stringent bail conditions imposed on him by the court. He would also have to watch what he says as any call for the removal of Mugabe can be construed as treasonous.