mugabe eyes fresh polls

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe said yesterday that Zimbabwe could hold fresh elections in two years if a new constitution is approved in a referendum.

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe said yesterday that Zimbabwe could hold fresh elections in two years if a new constitution is approved in a referendum.

Speaking to state media, Mugabe said the new unity government with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, formed only two weeks ago, was a temporary solution until the parties could agree on a new charter and fresh polls.

"We are an interim arrangement. We are not a permanent inclusive government," Mugabe said. "Ahead of us is a whole constitutional process which requires that we address the issue of the constitution.

"There is already a draft that the three parties agreed on. We shall look at it and when were are all satisfied it shall be put to the people in a referendum.

"If the people say yes, then the draft will be allowed to pass through parliament. The timeframe that was agreed on by the parties was that within 18 to 24 months we should have a referendum."

Zimbabwe's descent into political and economic crisis began nine years ago when Mugabe lost a referendum on a new constitution that would have expanded the powers of the man who has ruled since independence in 1980.

But the crisis deepened after disputed elections last year, sending Zimbabwe into a tailspin that saw politics deadlocked while a humanitarian crisis spiralled out of the control.

Tsvangirai agreed to form a unity government under intense regional pressure to end the crisis, which has left most of the population without food while a cholera epidemic has killed more than 3800 people.

Zimbabwe has made "an impressive start" on an economic recovery plan that warrants support from the international community, African Development Bank President Donald Kaberuka said yesterday.

Kaberuka told reporters at a summit of southern African finance ministers in Cape Town that the development bank was prepared to set up a donor meeting for Zimbabwe, but its $5billion (R50billion) foreign debt needed to be cleared to secure more aid.

"It will require that Zimbabwe comes forward with a credible economic programme. Now the first steps I have seen, listening to Zimbabwe's finance minister Tendai Biti, is quite impressive and it merits support," he said.

The new administration needs to tackle an economic meltdown that has led to the world's worst hyperinflation, food shortages and a cholera epidemic.

John Robertson, a leading economic consultant in Harare, said: "You have to get the economy on a programme to produce again before you can get Zimbabwe out of the woods. It's going to be hard, and the government has to pass the credibility test." - Sapa-AFP-Reuters

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