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Zimbabwean Minister: We are at a Crossroad

Not least an increasing dialogue between the rivalling political parties ZANU-PF and MDC-T gives renewed hope for Zimbabwe, Minister of Finance in Zimbabwe, Tendai Biti, said when visiting Denmark last week. Still, major challenges lie ahead.

After years of political crisis, the situation in Zimbabwe is now at a critical juncture, Minister of Finance in Zimbabwe, Tendai Biti, argued at a meeting hosted by the Danish Civil Society Organisation, Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke/ Actionaid Denmark, in Copenhagen last week.

According to Biti, several positive developments give renewed hope for political progress in Zimbabwe – a country otherwise marked by political polarization and violence.  Still, a number of reforms are necessary for Zimbabwe to embark on a path towards democratization.

Dialogue between ZANU-PF and MDC

“For the first time dialogue between ZANU-PF and MDC is possible” Tendai Biti (MDC-T) said as an example of one of the more positive developments in Zimbabwe in recent years.

The relationship between President Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) headed by Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, has otherwise been very strained following the much disputed Presidential election in Zimbabwe in 2008.

Until 2008, Zimbabwe was de-facto a one-party state, ruled by Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF.  However, in the 2008 elections, ZANU-PF lost its majority in parliament and leader of MDC, Tsvangirai, defeated Mugabe in the first round of the Presidential election.

Tsvangirai eventually withdrew from the second round following attack on MDC supporters and widespread violence in Zimbabwe. Months of political turmoil culminated in September 2008, when Mugabe agreed to a historic power-sharing deal with MDC, The Global Political Agreement (GPA). A so-called Inclusive Government (IG) was formed with Mugabe as President and Tsvangirai as Prime Minister.

The provisions of the GPA has, however, never been fully implemented and tensions between the parties remain.

Reaching the Deadline

Zimbabwe must hold elections no later than June 2013. However, a number of reforms are necessary to undertake a meaningful election, Tendai Biti stressed.

“A referendum on the constitution is crucial” Biti emphasized with reference to the constitution currently being drafted. While the parties have reached agreement on most Articles, key issues as the electoral system and division of power between the executive and legislature have yet to be decided. A referendum is thus not likely until September 2012.

Media reform to ensure access to independent information and a reform of the security sector are, according to Biti, likewise preconditions to ensure the integrity of the vote and to avoid an upsurge in political violence similar to that of 2008.The security sector described by Biti as a “force on its own” has long been accused of partisan and violent behaviour.

Other sources of political instability may also impact the upcoming elections. The 88 year-old Mugabe is without declared successor, leaving room for internal conflict and formation of fractions within ZANU-PF. The discovery of diamonds is likewise a key challenge emphasized repeatedly by Biti as a “major source of potential political instability”.

An election is, however, not sufficient to move towards democracy, Biti stressed with a reference to the strained relationship between ZANU-PF and MDC: “We need to deal with the dialogue”.

Facts on Zimbabwe

President: 88 year-old Robert Mugabe (ZANU-PF) since 1980

Prime Minister: Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC-T)

The Inclusive Government: Formed between ZANU-PF and MDC at the aftermath to a much disputed and violent election in 2008. The relationship between the parties remains strained.

Political Parties: Main parties are Zimbabwe African National Union- Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) led by  Robert Mugabe, Movement for Democratic Change – Tsvangirai (MDC-T) led by Morgan Tsvangirai and Movement for Democratic Change- Mutambara (MDC-M).  MDC split into MDC-T and MDC-M in 2005.

Next elections: No later than June 2013

Danish Development Aid: The Danish Government has contributed 240 million DKR to support democratization in Zimbabwe. Elements supported include the constitution process, the upcoming election and a census to be undertaken in August 2012.

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