South Africa Pushes for Month Delay in Zimbabwean Vote

South Africa wants Zimbabwe to postpone elections by at least a month from July 31 to allow time for the government to implement “basic reforms” to ensure free and fair elections, a senior official said.

The Southern African Development Community, which brokered an agreement that led to a coalition government after disputed elections five years ago, has asked authorities to apply to the Constitutional Court to defer the vote.

The regional group is “hoping the court will be sensitive to the process of the resolution of some of the tensions in the build-up to elections,” Lindiwe Zulu, an adviser to South African President Jacob Zuma and a member of SADC’s facilitation team for the elections, said in an interview in Johannesburg today.

The Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, led by President Robert Mugabe, 89, has shared power with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Party, since a 2008 election that international observers said was marred by violence and irregularities.

Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980, on June 13 set the election date for July 31, which Tsvangirai said was “unlawful and unconstitutional.”

The Constitutional Court is considering at least six applications challenging the election date. The court on June 26 postponed a hearing indefinitely over whether to defer the vote.

Economy Rebounds

“We would hope the court would approve the extension for at least a month because a lot of the new reforms are mentioned in the new constitution,” Zulu said. “Considering that elections are around the corner there must be enough time to implement at least the basic reforms to prevent a repeat of 2008.”

Zimbabwe’s economy has rebounded from a decade-long recession since the coalition government took office. The local currency, which fueled hyperinflation, was abandoned, easing food and fuel shortages. The economy is forecast to expand about 5 percent this year, according to the government.

Still, Mugabe’s push to force companies such as Anglo American Platinum Ltd. to sell stakes to black Zimbabweans is curbing investment in a country that holds the world’s second-biggest platinum reserves.

Tsvangirai pulled out of a 2008 presidential run-off after saying his followers were being attacked and killed by Mugabe’s supporters. He garnered the most votes in the first round.

“Some of the reforms needed before elections can take place are a conducive environment for electioneering,” Zulu said. “There must be free political activity where there’s no intimidation and violence. All political parties even beyond the three who are party to the global political agreement must have the freedom to run in the elections without any harassment.”

Observers from SADC and the African Union must be deployed to the country at least a month before the vote instead of the standard two weeks, she said.

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