FACTBOX-Key political risks to watch in Zimbabwe

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President Robert Mugabe’s supporters have tightened a leash on his rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai ahead of a campaign for what is likely to be a bruising fight in elections that could be held as early as next year.

Riot police in Zimbabwe’s western Matabeleland region have in the last few weeks stopped Tsvangirai from addressing a couple of rallies in the region where his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) beat Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and won a majority of parliamentary seats in elections in 2008.

In the capital Harare, another MDC rally organised by a minister jointly responsible for police affairs was disrupted by ZANU-PF militants after a clash with MDC youths reminiscent of flare ups witnessed early this year, Reuters reports.

Tsvangirai, who says he will win any free and fair poll, has vowed to challenge Mugabe over the rally issue to demand the creation of conducive campaigning environment ahead of elections expected by the end of 2012.

Mugabe, 87, was forced to form a power-sharing government with Tsvangirai after disputed elections three years ago marred by violence blamed on ZANU-PF, but analysts say he is pressing for polls a year ahead of schedule because of his advancing age and failing health.

RISE IN INTER-PARTY VIOLENCE

Although Mugabe’s supporters could have locked out Tsvangirai from holding rallies in the countryside simply to portray the MDC leader as a powerless figure in the unity government, his party lieutenants fear this could be a sign of troubled times ahead.

Some officials have warned that frustrated MDC youths could be forced into confronting ZANU-PF structures which critics say have routinely used violence against opponents since 2000.

What to Watch:
– A rise in interparty violence as drive for elections picks up steam.
– Tsvangirai and the MDC making a fresh appeal for political intervention from mediators in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), who are trying to help Zimbabwe to agree on a programme to hold a free and fair election.

MUGABE’S SUCCESSION

ZANU-PF will hold an annual meeting in early December where the party seeks to endorse Mugabe as its candidate in the next presidential election.

While in public officials rally behind Mugabe, in private ZANU-PF members prefer him to pass on the leadership to a younger heir.

The death of Retired General Solomon Mujuru in a fire in August has changed the dynamics in internal party battles over Mugabe’s succession.

Rumours say Mujuru, husband of Vice President Joice Mujuru was pressing Mugabe pressing Mugabe to step down and that his ZANU-PF faction also courted Tsvangirai’s MDC party.

What to watch:
– Any moves by Mugabe to mend the fractured party ahead of elections and signs he could be leaning towards any one of his allies bidding to succeed him.
– How Mujuru’s camp will regroup after losing its backroom operator and strategist.

GOVERNMENT SPENDING

The government is expected to run a budget deficit of $700 million this year, and is expected to find an extra $220 million next year for the southern African country to hold a referendum on a new constitution and a general election as well.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti, from Tsvangirai’s MDC, is currently relying on internal resources to fund the ever-growing national budget because donors still refuse to extend aid to Zimbabwe, demanding deeper political reforms.

After a July salary increase for state employees, the government now spends 67 percent of its revenues on salaries.

What to Watch:
– Any moves to increase taxes for mining firms the government says are contributing little in revenues.

LOCAL OWNERSHIP

Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Minister Kasukuwere from Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party says mining firms have mostly met a September deadline by which they were required to submit plans to transfer a 51 percent stake in their operations to locals.

Some foreign mines with operations in Zimbabwe include Impala Platinum , Aquarius and Rio Tinto , while British banks Barclays and Standard Chartered Bank operate locally.

The heavily criticised law is aimed mainly at mining firms and banks operating in a resource-rich state that has become an economic basket case because of what analysts say are years of mismanagement by Mugabe’s government.

Analysts say it is more likely the cash-strapped government wants to wring concessions from miners such as more cash or mineral rights. This explains why the government is negotiating with individual companies, the analysts say.

What to watch:
– Details of the agreements reached between the government and individual miners.
– What the government will do to companies that fail to comply with the law.

SECURITY, ELECTORAL REFORMS

Parliament is expected to debate some reforms to the country’s security and electoral laws which critics say Mugabe has used to hold onto power for three decades.

The MDC is also pushing for some changes to the security laws to keep military out of local politics.

Zimbabwe’s security service chiefs are hostile to Tsvangirai, calling him a Western front and have openly backed Mugabe in previous elections while vowing never to salute Tsvangirai even if he became President.

What to watch:
– Mugabe’s stance beyond polite agreement that generals should desist from making public statements on politics.
– How regional leaders, especially South African President Jacob Zuma who is mediating in Zimbabwe, will react to the MDC calls for military reforms.

CONSTITUTION

A multi-party parliamentary committee leading a review of the constitution says it will respect the wishes of ordinary Zimbabweans, but the final charter is likely to be a compromise between ZANU-PF and MDC, who both lack a two-thirds majority in parliament needed to pass the new supreme law on their own.

A referendum on a draft not backed by either party would likely trigger violence.



What to watch:
– Compromise deal. Many Zimbabweans hope a new charter, replacing the pre-independence document, will strengthen the role of parliament, curtail presidential powers and guarantee civil, political and media liberties.
– ZANU-PF reaction to prolonged delays in the crafting of the new constitution.