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Zimbabwe Election Impasse Spurs Support Groups to Court Political Reform

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has come to the defense of a plan to combine Zimbabwe’s presidential and parliamentary elections in 2010. In an interview on state television on the eve of his 83rd birthday, Mugabe acknowledged significant opposition to the plan to delay next year’s presidential vote by two years. But he denied that the proposal was devised as a way to prolong his rule. He vowed that even if the vote goes on as planned by March of 2008, he expects to win another term. Reginald Matshaba-Hove is country director of the Southern African Development Community’s Electoral Support Network in Zimbabwe. He says he expects next year’s vote to take place as scheduled.

“We are making it clear from a legal point of view that elections are due before the end of March, 2008. So there are conscientization campaigns going out throughout the country and people are being alerted of what the constitutional complications of such a move to postpone the elections would be,” he said.

Given the mounting criticism President Mugabe is facing domestically for a soaring inflation rate and critical shortages of food and fuel, Matshaba-Hove suggests that under certain conditions, compromise on an election date could be reached.

"From the reading we are getting on the ground, elections will be held, irrespective of who the candidates are, by March, 2008 unless there are significant constitutional reforms, which all parties agree, would require more time. But there must have been seen to be progress on the ground for that to happen,” said Matshaba-Hove.

He notes that conditions are too premature to decide what terms would permit the current presidential term to be extended by two years, but says negotiations could start within a few months’ time.

“Certainly, we would have hoped to see within the next few months progress on repealing sections of the Information Act, which prohibits free media, the Public Order and Security Act, which prohibits free assembly, and, of course, all other restrictions within the electoral laws. I believe that serious partners, including the human rights NGO forum are taking these issues to show that the Public Order and Security Act is ultra vires (unenforceable) to the constitution and that in that campaign period as we head toward the presidential elections, all political parties have the right to campaign freely without interference,” he said.