With the one-year anniversary of the signature of Zimbabwe's Global Political Agreement for power sharing coming up Sept. 15, the principals in the country's unity government and their negotiators have opened informal talks to extend a GPA engagement not to contest by-elections - and possibly to allow the government to run for five years, sources said.
The moratorium on contesting by-elections for seats won in 2008 by the three parties in the so-called inclusive government - President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF, the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, and the MDC grouping of Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara - runs out in about three weeks.
Some 16 House and Senate seats have been vacated, in particular several of those held by Mutambara's MDC formation due to the party's expulsion of rebel legislators, raising the prospect of hotly contested by-elections at a time when the reverberations of 2008 post-election violence are still being felt and the country has much business to attend to.
Citing the "divisive and often times confrontational nature of elections and by-elections" GPA Article 21 pledged the signing parties not to seek each other's seats if they came open. This engagement was to run for just one year, but with the unity government troubled by many unresolved issues even a few by-elections could generate considerable tension.
Elsewhere, ZANU-PF lawmaker Paul Mangwana, co-chairman of the parliamentary select committee on constitutional reform, said last week that the government is likely to last for five years as the majority of legislators want to serve their full terms of five years.
Sources in the Mutambara MDC confirmed informal talks are under way, but sources in the Tsvangirai MDC said there were divisions over extending the no-contest provision. Some said by-elections should be contested once the clause expires, but others warn this could lead to more political bloodshed. Some ZANU-PF hardliners want to contest by-elections so they can try to trim the MDC House majority – but others fear the gap might only widen.
Minister of state Gorden Moyo, attached to the office of the prime minister, said the Tsvangirai formation does not intend to extend the moratorium on contesting by-elections.
But ZANU-PF Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa has said that extending the moratorium is the prerogative of the three principals who signed the original agreement.
Industry and Commerce Minister and Mutambara MDC Secretary General Welshman Ncube, one of the lead negotiators of the 2008 power-sharing pact, told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that informal discussions are under way.
London-based political analyst and human rights lawyer Dewa Mavhinga said political violence should be more of a pressing issue than by-elections.