Mugabe Threatens to Quit SADC Over Election Date Dispute

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe threatened to withdraw from a regional body as he pressed ahead with plans to hold elections this month despite a request by the Southern African Development Community that they be delayed to allow reforms.

“We are in SADC voluntarily,” he told a political rally to announce his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party’s election manifesto at a stadium on the outskirts of the capital, Harare, today. “If SADC decides to do stupid things we can withdraw.”

The 15-nation group, which in 2009 brokered an end to a decade-long political dispute in Zimbabwe, this month asked Mugabe to seek a delay to July 31 elections to allow reforms, that form part of a new constitution, to be enacted. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, whose Movement for Democratic change was compelled by SADC to join a coalition with Mugabe as part of the 2009 pact, has sought a postponement.

Yesterday Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court upheld a ruling that elections should take place on July 31.

“It is a political decision and not a legal decision,” MDC spokesman Douglas Mwonzora said in a phone interview yesterday. He didn’t answer calls to his mobile phone today.

Tsvangirai has said he wants a code of conduct for police and military forces ahead of elections. The MDC has also demanded equal access to state media and closer inspection of the country’s voters’ roll before the vote.

‘Basic Reforms’

South Africa, a member of SADC, wants Zimbabwe to postpone the elections by at least a month to implement “basic reforms,” 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 on June 28.

“An ordinary woman says ‘no you can’t have elections on July 31?’” Mugabe said today. “Really did such a person think we as a country would take heed of this street woman’s stupid utterances?”

Mac Maharaj, a spokesman for Zuma, didn’t immediately respond to text messages and voice mails left on his mobile phone.

Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980 after leading a guerrilla movement, has fought a series of elections since 2000 against Tsvangirai, bolstering his support by seizing white-owned commercial farms for redistribution to black subsistence farmers and backing a law stipulating that foreign-owned companies sell 51 percent of their assets to black Zimbabweans or the government.

Tsvangirai has opposed the law, which has seen companies including Anglo American Platinum Ltd. and Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd., the world’s two biggest producers of the metal, cede assets.

‘Still Oppressed’

“Indigenization and empowerment policies will drive the growth and development of our economy,” Mugabe’s party said in its manifesto, released today. “Land reform will continue to anchor the growth of our economy.”

Elections in 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2008 were described as marred by violence and electoral irregularities by most observers, including the European Union. Sanctions were imposed by the EU and the U.S. on Mugabe and his closest allies.

Mugabe said his experience of governing with Tsvangirai and the faction of the MDC that the prime minister heads, known as MDC-T, shows that “wearing a crown does not make one king.”

The MDC is split into two factions with Tsvangirai leading the larger one.

Tsvangirai’s party will announce its manifesto on July 7.

“When I see MDC-T and other like-minded people fight against indigenization and empowerment, it sadly reflects that we still have a few of our people who are still oppressed and have no sense of identity or what they own as Zimbabweans.”

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