The Zimbabwean government on Wednesday rolled out a number state assistance programs which were to take effect immediately, one month before the electorate is to go back to the polls on June 27 to cast ballots in a presidential run-off election.
The state-run Herald newspaper quoted Finance Minister Samuel Mumbengegwi as saying free education, health care and food will be provided to those in need, while in rural areas the government would be expanding food-for-work programs.
President Robert Mugabe is seen as the underdog in the run-off against opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who according to official results released by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission outpolled Mr. Mugabe with 47.9% compared with 43.2% in the contested first-round presidential ballot. Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change says its candidate won an outright majority but was cheated.
The government's election-season package, finalized last week by the politburo of Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, includes fuel for transport operators. The government said the program is intended to “cushion citizens from illegal sanctions-induced hardships," a reference to Western sanctions targeting Mr. Mugabe and his inner circle.
Sources at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe said the Finance Ministry ordered the RBZ to print money to cover the expenditures. The sources said Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono, concerned about this expansionary move, urged Mr. Mugabe to avoid a run-off by negotiating with the opposition, but his advice was not heeded.
Economist Godfrey Kanyenze, director of the Labor and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the new spending would further fuel hyperinflation.
MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa called the aid programs a campaign ploy.
More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...