Harare - Southern African leaders will gather in Mozambique Saturday, tasked with once again pulling Zimbabwe back from the political abyss amid uncertainty over the upcoming general election.
Leaders from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) will huddle in the Mozambican capital of Maputo just days after Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe unilaterally set a July 31 date for polls.
Mugabe's move sparked a fresh political crisis in the troubled country, with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai vowing to fight the decision.
Tsvangirai has said he would veto any election date that comes before democratic reforms are introduced to ensure the vote is not a sham.
The election would end a shaky power-sharing government between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, formed four years ago at SADC's insistence as part of a plan to end political bloodshed.
But any question marks over the conduct of the elections or a Tsvangirai boycott could derail a process that, despite its faults, pulled Zimbabwe back from economic collapse.
It could also serve as a body-blow to SADC ambitions.
“This is really a test case to prove... if SADC has emerged as a strong regional bloc for enforcing democratic principles,” said Harare-based political analyst Ernest Mudzengi.
Mudzengi warned a sham election could take place if leaders do not check Mugabe's plans, something leaders, particularly South Africa's Jacob Zuma, have been reluctant to do in the past.
The meeting initially planned for Maputo last weekend was postponed after Mugabe said he was “unavailable” to attend.
ZANU-PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo said the party expects the regional summit to endorse the dates set by Mugabe.
“We expect SADC to endorse our position to go for election by the 31st of July and that the President has the prerogative to call for elections in Zimbabwe,” Gumbo said.
“Zimbabwe is a sovereign state and we are complying with the decision of the highest court. We hope SADC will support this position.”
Blessing Vava of National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) - a Zimbabwean civil society group - said SADC is unlikely to change the election date, but will ask Mugabe to push for reforms.
“The proclamation of the election date by the President is according to the laws of the country,” Vava said.
“Probably SADC will just... push Mugabe to ensure there is a favourable environment for elections.”
Tsvangirai has vowed to fight the date in the courts.
“President Mugabe is acting unlawfully and unconstitutionally,” he said Thursday. “As prime minister I cannot and will not accept this.”
In its editorial comment a local daily News Day questioned Mugabe's rush to comply with a constitutional court ruling that elections be held by July 31.
The paper claimed Mugabe is aware conditions have not changed since the bloody polls in 2008.
“One wonders why Mugabe wants Zimbabwe to regress to the pre-2008 turmoil,” the paper said.
“If Mugabe could only allow Zimbabwe to move forward, he would obviously salvage his otherwise tattered legacy. Otherwise his actions this far, is self-defeating.”
The SADC summit is set to discuss the election roadmap and how to raise funds to finance the $132 million election budget that the cash-strapped Zimbabwe government is battling to raise. - Sapa-AFP