Britain’s Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Lord Howell of Guildford told the House of Lords on Monday that Zimbabwe could have its referendum in June or September this year.
He said it was impossible to have an election in March as President Robert Mugabe had stated last year as the constitutional drafting process and the referendum had to take place first.
When told that there did not appear to be any clear roadmap to the elections, Lord Howell said, that was right.
“There is a good deal of toing and froing, and SADC is indeed the guarantor of the global political agreement,” the minister said.
Asked what Britain was going to do to make sure that there was no repeat of the violence of 2008, the minister said there were several ways in which Britain was going to work to minimise the chances of a repeat of 2008.
“We can engage with the Chinese in pointing out that they carry certain responsibilities, and we are doing so; we can work through the human rights agencies, the United Nations and the European Union and get them to mount pressure; and we can support all the voices in Zimbabwe that are urging that there should be real constitutional reform and a sensible election rather than the distorting and violent pattern of the past.”
Below is the full question and answer session on Zimbabwe on Monday:
Asked By Lord Avebury
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what information they have on the progress being made towards the framing of a new constitution and preparations for elections in Zimbabwe.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, the Zimbabwe constitution process continues to move forward despite attempts to disrupt it at the end of 2011. We understand that a draft exists and expect a referendum between June and September 2012. The discussions facilitated by the Southern African Development Community on an election road map continue and will, when concluded, establish the necessary reforms that must be completed before polls can be held. We stand ready to support SADC in this process in any way we can.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, does my noble friend say, therefore, that the draft constitution will be published before the end of the year? What help have we offered either through the European Union or the Commonwealth to SADC to ensure that adequate electoral machinery is in place for the referendum on the draft constitution to take place in good time before the deadline for general elections in June next year?
Lord Howell of Guildford: The constitution and its production is naturally a matter for the Government of Zimbabwe, but we hope that this will come forward. We certainly take the view that it would not make sense to have an election before the constitutional process. Although Mr Mugabe suggested that there should be an election in March 2012, we really do not think that would be a serious or realistic proposition. As for working with SADC, we and the EU want to work through it to develop the right conditions for fair and sensible polls and for proper monitoring. The Commonwealth and other organisations will be ready to accede to any request from SADC for that to happen. We are ready to help, but with SADC in the lead it is obviously for it to indicate at what point it wants our help, in which case that help will certainly be forthcoming.
Lord St John of Bletso: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is no clearly defined road map towards the constitution being agreed, nor the referendum, with the constitutional assembly arguing each week about procedural issues? With SADC being the guarantor of the GPA and the GNU, what pressure can Her Majesty’s Government put on SADC to enforce this procedure to the timetable?
Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Lord’s analysis is quite right: there is a good deal of toing and froing, and SADC is indeed the guarantor of the global political agreement. He asked what pressure we can put on it. We are in constant contact with SADC; and we in the EU, and the Commonwealth arrangements, are also in contact with it. It is our view that we should leave the lead to SADC in this matter and in mounting the pressures on and persuading the Zimbabwean authorities, but we will certainly do our best within that context.
Lord Hughes of Woodside: Does the Minister accept that although violence has been reduced somewhat in Zimbabwe, it is still unacceptably high? That being the case, will he not only exert pressure but encourage President Zuma, the South African Government and SADC to do everything possible to ensure that there can be no proper constitutional change until the violence has ended and the global political agreement is agreed in full?
Lord Howell of Guildford: We certainly agree with that. Mr Zuma has of course taken the lead in SADC, with the support of its other member countries. They have made more progress in recent times than I think the pessimists feared, and we will continue on the path of encouragement and pressure and of offering any services that we can at the right time.
Lord Elton: My Lords, bearing in mind the difficulty of trusting the integrity of the present regime in Zimbabwe, what steps are being taken internationally to monitor the referendum when it takes place? It could be on the lines of the delegation sent by my noble friend Lady Thatcher, which was led by Viscount Boyd and included me from this House, to invigilate the first elections since independence in 1979?
Lord Howell of Guildford: All of us, including the Commonwealth, are quite ready to do the monitoring, but it has to be by the request of the Government concerned. If there is no request, one cannot simply impose the demand to monitor unilaterally, so progress depends ultimately on the willingness of Zimbabwe to have external monitors at all. That is something we will continue to press very hard indeed.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, does the Minister accept that successive Governments, to their very great credit, made it clear that they would wish to invest very considerably in the reconstruction of Zimbabwe once certain indices of performance were achieved? Can he tell the House what those indices of performance broadly were, and how near or far the Zimbabwean people are to having those plans realised?
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, if they fit the criteria for investment, we do not discourage new investment projects in Zimbabwe absolutely, but obviously they must be closely associated with the ending and the avoidance of any kind of violence, as I should have emphasised in my answer to the previous question, and must be aimed at benefiting the people of Zimbabwe, not at ending up with a lot of money going corruptly into the hands of a few. That is the broad pattern of criteria.
We are dealing with an economy that is now beginning to grow again, although admittedly from a very low level-I think that there was 9 per cent growth this year. Substantial aid is going in, not-I emphasise-through the Government but only through the non-governmental agencies. The infrastructure is beginning slowly to improve, helped also by massive Chinese investment. All these are conditions that we are watching very closely, and there are some firms willing to investigate and proceed, in very careful ways, with investment in the recovery of this once rich, and we hope rich again in the future, country.
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: Would the Minister join me in arguing that it is increasingly likely that Mugabe will orchestrate a repeat of the 2008 election? The strategy then was ruthlessly to unleash the army, the police and the intelligence services on the political opposition and the people of Zimbabwe. In that event, what can the international community do when China, which benefits so substantially from the mineral wealth of Zimbabwe, including diamonds, blocks any concerted efforts to deal with ZANU-PF’s terror and intimidation?
Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Baroness’s prediction could be right, but I hope it is not. We are absolutely determined to see that the forthcoming election does not repeat all the violence and intimidation, terror and distortion of the 2008 election. There are ways in which we can work to minimise the chances of a repeat of 2008: we can engage with the Chinese in pointing out that they carry certain responsibilities, and we are doing so; we can work through the human rights agencies, the United Nations and the European Union and get them to mount pressure; and we can support all the voices in Zimbabwe that are urging that there should be real constitutional reform and a sensible election rather than the distorting and violent pattern of the past.