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Zimbabwe’s Inclusive Government Stalls

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, right, chats to Prime Minister Morgan Tsavangirai during their end of year press conference at State House in Harare, saying they were dispelling rumors of disunity in the Government of National Unity, December 20, 2010

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, right, chats to Prime Minister Morgan Tsavangirai during their end of year press conference at State House in Harare, saying they were dispelling rumors of disunity in the Government of National Unity, December 20, 2010

When Zimbabwe’s inclusive government came into being two years ago - the anniversary is February 11 - after tough negotiations many Zimbabweans greeted its arrival with enthusiasm and had high hopes for political reform they believed would rebuild the shattered economy, get education back on track, reopen closed hospitals, bring products back to largely empty supermarket shelves, a new constitution and eventually, free and fair elections.

Key supporters of Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai, were critical when he signed the political agreement which lead to formation of the inclusive government in February, 2009; and saw him become prime minster of Zimbabwe.

Analysts say he easily won the first round of the presidential poll in general elections held in March 2008. But after five weeks election officials appointed by President Robert Mugabe announced a result that forced a run-off.

During the five-week delay and after the result was announced there was widespread violence, overwhelmingly perpetrated against people who had voted for Mr. Tsvangirai. Independent human rights groups said supporters of Mr. Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party were responsible, and that hundreds were killed and thousands injured.

After several weeks, Mr. Tsvangirai pulled out of the run-off, saying he could not allow the violence against his supporters to continue. Mr. Mugabe won an uncontested poll, and was hastily sworn into office - but for the first time not a single African leader turned up to support him.

Negotiations for an inclusive government followed this stalemate.

Now two years later, experts and civil society organizations say the inclusive government is bogged down. Even some who wholeheartedly supported its establishment - mostly because political violence eased and hyper-inflation disappeared - are disappointed.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, from which the MDC emerged in 1999, was particularly critical. Congress president Lovemore Matombo said the labor movement warned Mr. Tsvangirai and his party not to go into the unity government as he said it was impossible to do honorable deals with ZANU-PF. He said before the inclusive government came to power, ZANU-PF had no money, and even its supporters were angry as the party could not keep schools and hospitals open.

"They misjudged ZANU-PF. Then they rescued ZANU-PF," said Matombo.

In terms of the political agreement which established the inclusive government, one of its tasks was to reform many repressive laws imposed by Mr. Mugabe and ZANU-PF following independence in 1980. In 2010, Zimbabwe passed fewer laws through parliament than in any legislative year since independence.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights has been at the forefront of the campaign to promote democracy and protect those who are politically persecuted.

Irene Petras, director of the lawyers group, said those who had high hopes for the inclusive government were particularly disappointed with parliament’s failure to reform repressive laws or write new laws for future elections.

"We had a legislative agenda which was outlined by the president. And if you look at that legislative agenda almost none of the laws that were going to be either amended or repealed or new laws that were going to be brought in, none of those have gone through," said Petras.

She said expectations for quick reforms by the inclusive government were high, and many were disappointed when they realized how long reform would take.

She says one of the group’s main concerns is continued partisan policing and warrants of arrest issued by ZANU-PF Attorney General, Johannes Tomana.

She said many MDC supporters arrested during the last two years, regularly gave the lawyers group the same message - that the police are wholly controlled by ZANU-PF.

"[They say] we are not being protected, police are not helping us, they are not making sure there is order and that the real perpetrators are being arrested. So when you have that loss of public confidence in the police you have a very dangerous situation," said Petras.

But Petras also tells VOA the last two years have been useful for MDC cabinet minister members as they were able to learn how the government worked and how it had evolved under 30 years of Mr. Mugabe’s rule.

Leading up to this anniversary, Mr. Mugabe says that the inclusive government would expire on its second anniversary and that fresh elections should be held soon.

Human rights groups say this election talk has produced sporadic small-scale ZANU-PF violence against MDC supporters.

ZANU-PF spokesman Rugaro Gumbo said this week his party is gearing up for elections this year. He told journalists in Harare Thursday, ZANU-PF is "fed up" with the inclusive government.

The political agreement gives no deadline for elections but does now require a review of progress of the inclusive government with the Southern African Development Community which has guaranteed the multi-party political agreement.

Tendai Biti, secretary-general of the MDC says new elections cannot be held now. He says voters feel insecure their vote will reflect their political choice, the voters roll is inaccurate and contains two million deceased people, and that the agreed reforms to electoral laws are still outstanding.

"The starting point is, is this country ready for an election at the present moment - and I think that is the critical thing? And quite clearly this country is not ready for an election," said Biti.

Biti, who is also finance minister in the inclusive government, says political violence has subsided since the high point of 2008, and hyper-inflation disappeared when Zimbabwe abandoned its currency in favor of the United States dollar and South African Rand.

But he says it will be South African mediators, who report directly to President Jacob Zuma, who will produce a road map for fresh elections which will end the inclusive government.

"So the fate of the next election, how credible it is, any omissions, any deficiencies any commissions clearly lies in the road map that is being drafted by President Zuma right now," he said.

Tensions have been growing within the inclusive government since late last year. In addition to failure of legislative reform, many top jobs within the civil service which, in terms of the political agreement, should have gone to the MDC have been given to individuals known to be close to Mr. Mugabe.

The country’s state-owned broadcast media, both radio and television, continue under the control of Mr Mugabe’s ZANU-PF in contravention of the agreement. Independent media monitors say coverage is biased toward Mr. Mugabe and ZANU-PF and denigrates Mr. Tsvangirai and the MDC.

Some analysts believe that the MDC has not been sufficiently energetic or strategic enough to stop ZANU-PF from hindering political reform.

Eldred Masunungure, senior political scientist at the University of Zimbabwe believes that some in the MDC have become comfortable with some of the trappings of political power.

He also says Mr. Tsvangirai should not have deployed both his party’s secretary-general and deputy secretary-general to cabinet jobs as this had weakened the party.

"You can do that when you have arrived. Not when you are in a heavily compromised position. To me it displays a lack of strategic direction, and that has been the major weakness of the MDC," said Masunungure.

Although the inclusive government has made progress in education and health, as well as price stability, most businessmen, and ordinary people, are disappointed with the inclusive government. Many wonder if Mr. Mugabe is trying to provoke prime minister Tsvangirai into quitting the unity government.

But unionist Matombo said it is impossible for the MDC to walk away now.

"What is likely to happen is they are going to be arrested. They are going to die there in prison. And the MDC is aware about that," said Matombo.

Political observers say the only chance of moving political reform along will come through President Zuma’s mediation team when it unblocks resistance to reforming repressive laws.