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Zimbabwe Elections Chief Comes Out Against 2011 Elections, Citing Funding Issues

The statement by Electoral Commission Chairman Simpson Mutambanengwe contradicted one last week from Deputy Chairperson Joyce Kazembe saying the body would organize polls if asked to do so by President Robert Mugabe

The head of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has thrown cold water on talk of new elections in the country next year, insisting that his body will not be “stampeded” into organizing an inadequately funded ballot.

The statement by Electoral Commission Chairman Simpson Mutambanengwe contradicted one last week from Deputy Chairperson Joyce Kazembe saying the body would organize polls if asked to do so by President Robert Mugabe.

The state-controlled, ZANU-PF-aligned Herald newspaper quoted her as saying the commission was ready to conduct elections in 2011. "Our mandate is to implement presidential proclamations as and when they are made," she said. "If a [presidential election] proclamation is made, we implement it," the Herald quoted her as saying.

Kazembe refused to comment on Thursday referring all questions to Mutambanengwe, who said his second in command might have been quoted out of context.

Mutambanengwe said the political leadership should follow the road map to elections that is laid out in the 2008 Global Political Agreement which gave birth to Harare's government of national unity, and provide enough funds to his commission to carry out preliminary operations before setting any timetables for national balloting.

The head of the reformed electoral commission - its predecessor was widely criticized for slow delivery of results and suspected vote tampering in the disastrous 2008 elections - warned against a rushed election. Mutambanengwe said he did not want a repeat of the violent and inconclusive June 2008 presidential run-off election.

Cabinet sources told VOA however that the Finance Ministry will soon give the Electoral Commission US$40 million to get going on the groundwork for elections, including an update of the national voters roll.

Nonetheless, more than 50 civic groups led by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network met last week in Vumba, in the Eastern Highlands of Manicaland province and concluded that the country is just not ready for elections, concluding that, “The political environment remains highly volatile, uncertain, and tense."

ZESN says the polarized environment does not favor elections as violence would most likely erupt.

It added that, the the unity government has not repealed repressive legislation such as the Public Order and Security Act or POSA, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and the Broadcasting Services Act which remains an impediment to the liberalization of radio and television, still a state monopoly.

The independent elections monitoring group added that,such laws have restricted people’s civil liberties and freedoms of expression and association and are thus "inimical to the holding of free and fair elections."

ZESN noted that that institutions and structures which support violence such as the ZANU-PF controlled youth militia, war veterans and partisan security agencies remain unreformed and a "threat to democratic elections.”

Zimbabwe Election Support Network Chairman Tinoziva Bere told VOA Studio 7 reporter Blessing Zulu that his organization's warning against rushing into elections in 2011 has been vindicated.

Elsewhere, the International Crisis Group said the political situation in Zimbabwe remains so unstable that it seemed last month the unity government might fracture over irreconcilable differences between Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party and Mr. Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, which accuses the president of unilateralism.

The anti-conflict watchdog warned in its monthly report that the country could run into a major political crisis if the Global Political Agreement is not respected. It ranked Zimbabwe with Nigeria and Guinea among African countries facing possibly explosive crises, saying differences over elections are escalating intra-governmental tensions.

But political commentator Psychology Maziwisa of the Union for Sustainable Democracy told VOA reporter Ntungamili Nkomo that he disagrees with the ICG's categorization of Harare as a potential continental hot spot.