HARARE— The Zimbabwe prime minister’s office said Thursday it expects the country’s electoral commission to start preparing for polls. But the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) says it does not have the funding and does not know when it will get it. Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Zimbabwe is well behind schedule with reforms needed to ensure the country has credible national elections.
Preparations for Zimbabwe's next elections, expected sometime this year, have not yet begun.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai summoned the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and the ministers of justice, finance and home affairs to ensure that election preparations kick off.
After the meeting, which lasted about two hours, the prime minister’s spokesperson William Bango said, “All the major items have been cleared. And the registration exercise should start anytime. ZEC (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) is now fully in charge of the process because it is now an operation which they are constitutionally expected to execute.”
But Joyce Kazembe, the ZEC acting chairperson, told journalists that the commission was still waiting for money to start preparing for polls The commission said it needs nearly $200 million to hold a constitutional referendum and the elections.
“The budget was approved a long time ago. We are just waiting for it to be released to us. We want to go on the outreach," said Kazembe. "It was supposed to start on the 3rd [of January]. Once we get the money we are off. We were promised that it will be released like very soon. And very soon is a relative term, it could be released today, it could be tomorrow.”
President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party is pushing hard for elections to end a four-year-old unity government with Mr. Tsvangirai's MDC party.
The election preparations are being held up, in part, by the impasse over Zimbabwe's new constitution. The Southern African Development Community has insisted a new constitution be in place before the elections.
But ZANU-PF and the MDC are deadlocked over a proposed reduction of presidential powers, among other issues.
If and when the parties bridge their differences, the new constitution must be approved in a nationwide referendum before the elections can be held.
A report released Thursday by Human Rights Watch said, besides a needed new constitution, Zimbabwe has yet to repeal or amend repressive laws to ensure the country has a credible election.
The last elections in 2008 were deeply marred by violence, most of it by ZANU-PF supporters against backers of the MDC.