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Tsvangirai Demands New Zimbabwe Constitution Before Elections

Zimbabwe Prime Minister and Movement For Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai (L) and National Organising Secretary Nelson Chamisa present a booklet at the launch of Conditions for a Sustainable Election in Zimbabwe (COSEZ) in Harare, March 8

Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has ruled out polls in his country before a new constitution is in place. Tsvangirai said elections would only be held under conditions which would be accepted by regional leaders. Tsvangirai released a document Thursday outlining the conditions in which his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) would take part in elections.

Avoid violence

Describing 2012 as a "watershed year," the prime minister said Zimbabweans do not want more violent elections like the ones that happened three years ago. In 2008, violence erupted after Mugabe lost the first round of presidential polls to Tsvangirai. Tsvangirai said his party still has memories of those polls, when about 200 supporters of his MDC party were killed while several thousand were displaced or injured.

"The experience of disputed elections accompanied by needless loss of blood in Kenya, in Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast cannot be repeated," he said. "We are not afraid of elections. But we are not going to participate in a war. It is because of this that the MDC will not be stampeded into a sham election."

Democratic reforms

Besides avoiding violence, Tsvangirai said he wants a new constitution after the completion of democratic reforms, including repealing tough laws and allowing free media in Zimbabwe.

Mugabe last month said he would use his powers to ensure that polls are held this year even without a new constitution. Without mentioning anyone, Tsvangirai repeated Mugabe’s words and then said:

"That is cheap. We do not want cheap talk," he said. "The way forward for Zimbabwe remains a free and fair election. Anything else will be a circus or bloodbath masquarading as an election, will be a mockery to SADC and AU who have been painstakingly working to ensure we hold a credible election and set a foundation for a prosperous Zimbabwe."

Recovering from economic meltdown

Zimbabwe, once a breadbasket of southern Africa, endured an economic meltdown in the last decade marked by food shortages and record hyper-inflation. The situation has slowly improved since 2009, when Mugabe's ZANU-PF party and the MDC formed a coalition government, under pressure from regional leaders.

Charles Mangongera, a political analyst with the Mass Public Opinion Institute in Harare, says Tsvangirai’s demands for polls that will not affect Zimbabwe’s economic recovery are reasonable.

"We know that people from ZANU-PF are already pushing to say that we are going even under the old constitution. But it was important for the MDC to tell Zimbabweans what is it that they are demanding before we can have an election," he said. "Whether that is realistic or ZANU-PF will respond to that that is an argument for another day. But it is important to state where they stand. Now we know that their position is: yes we are ready for an election but only after certain conditions have been met."

Mugabe’s party has yet to respond to the demands of the MDC.