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Unity government turns three; President Robert Mugabe turns 88

February 11, 2012 - ZIMBABWE

The new Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction has until Thanksgiving, 24 Nov, to find at least US $1.2 trillion in deficit cuts. The Thanksgiving deadline amounts to pressure on the committee to turn in their budget plan on Nov 23, or forfeit the national holiday. The 12-member committee of legislators -- six Democrats and six Republicans -- was formed as part of the deal President Barak Obama struck with congressional Republicans in August to raise the debt ceiling.

Zimbabwe's Government of National Unity (GNU) brings together the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) led by President Robert Mugabe and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the former opposition, led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. The coalition turns three on Feb 11, a birthday unlikely to be celebrated. President Robert Mugabe of ZANU-PF, on the other hand, can expect a lavish gala for his 88th birthday on Feb 21. If Zimbabwe's power-sharing government can agree on reforms in the draft document -- a big "if" due to apparently intractable disputes about reforms -- the country could vote in April or May on a constitution to replace the 1980 charter that accompanied independence from Britain. The schedule for both presentation of the draft constitution to parliament and the schedule have slipped many times. The unity government was formed in 2009 after disputed elections. Disputes, particularly about reforms, have delayed progress on the new constitution and prevented the government from addressing problems that include massive unemployment. Zimbabwe has experienced food shortages and record inflation since 2000 after Mugabe, the longtime ruler, ordered farmland seizures. The most difficult sticking points between the parties relate to reforms of the security apparatus. Saying the coalition hasn't worked, Mugabe wants elections in 2011, and might rush them through without the constitution. His opponents argue that holding the polls before major reforms are implemented would lead to another disputed outcome. The MDC complains about the environment for elections, saying Zimbabwe's military and other security forces must be reformed before elections to level the playing field. The MDC also wants international monitors in place before and after the ballot. ZANU-PF has resisted those demands, especially security sector reforms. Tsvangirai has accused ZANU-PF of "directly mobilizing and sponsoring destabilization and violence" to terrify voters ahead of elections. Mugabe might rush elections through in 2011 -- without the constitution. In 2000, a draft constitution promoted by Mugabe's then sole-ruling Zanu-PF party was rejected at a referendum because it retained the veteran ruler's 'excessive'; powers. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Mugabe, was born 21 Feb 1924, in Southern Rhodesia, then under British rule. The events for Mugabe's 85th birthday included a banquet, a gala dinner, a public feast and a concert at which dozens of animals were slaughtered. His 86th birthday was celebrated with an "extravagant overnight gala" starring local and international musicians, according to the Zimbabwe Times. The party was widely condemned because of its cost at a time of great hardship for Zimbabweans. With a guest list of some 10,000, Mugabe's 87th birthday party in Harare was no less lavish and criticized. There are local reports that Mugabe's health is not good, but he is not seen as ready to slow down or relinquish power to Tsvangarai or members of his own party. (UPDATED Nov 2011)

Does Zimbabwe's Unity Government Stand a Chance? (Time 11 Feb 2009)

Zimbabwe&rsquos draft constitution to be ready in October (Nation 29 Jul 2012)

10,000 gather for Robert Mugabe's birthday (Scotsman 26 Feb 2011)

Robert Mugabe biography (Encyclopedia Britannica)

Date written/update: 2012-02-11