According to the Constitution of Zimbabwe, the President heads the government and is elected for a period of 6 years by free elections; the next presidential election is scheduled for 2008. Legislative power lies with Parliament, which consists of the National Assembly, elected for 5 years. The National Assembly has 120 elected members, 8 governors, 10 traditional leaders, 12 members appointed by the President, a Speaker and an Attorney General. The constitution provides for an independent judicial system. Attempts by the opposition and some ZANU-PF members to amend the constitution on some points and to set a limit on the number of terms a president may serve, were initially rejected as unnecessary by the government.
In 1999, however, under pressure from social developments, the government set up a constitutional review committee. It consisted of representatives of the governing party and a number of social groups. On 1 December 1999, this commission published a new constitutional proposal in which one of the main points concerned a renewed division of the executive power by restoring the premiership. In addition, it was proposed to limit the duration of the presidency (not of the incumbent president) to a maximum of two terms of five years each and to strengthen the powers of the Parliament. The new constitutional proposal, with a clause added by the President allowing for the expropriation of land without compensation, was submitted to the voters by referendum in February 2000. More than 55% of the voters rejected the new constitutional proposal, not so much for reasons of content but mainly as a protest against President Mugabe's increasingly autocratic regime.
Since the referendum in February 2000, the country has faced an increasingly intense "campaign" of intimidation and violence in the run-up to the parliamentary elections on 24 and 25 June. This took place mainly in the rural areas where ZANU-PF is traditionally strong, was clearly orchestrated by the regime, and was directed against (perceived) supporters of the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), founded in 1999 and led by former trade union leader Morgan Tsvangirai. At the same time, fanatical supporters of the ruling party held a prolonged occupation of just under a thousand large commercial farms, mainly owned by white farmers. This move, responding to longstanding discontent about the lack of real redistribution of land among the rural black population, seemed to be motivated mainly by political reasons and as a diversion from the major economic problems the country is currently facing as a result of the government's (mis)policies. Nevertheless, the elections themselves were calm and generally correct. The turnout (about 60%) was very high by Zimbabwean standards. The MDC is represented by 57 seats in the 150-seat parliament. The ruling ZANU-PF party won 62 seats. The other members of parliament, apart from one independently elected member, are appointed by the president. The result was a political landslide, although ZANU-PF retained its majority.
Since the results of the referendum and the parliamentary elections in 2000, the political situation in Zimbabwe has continued to deteriorate. The ruling party, ZANU-PF, and President Mugabe in particular, seem prepared to sacrifice economic growth, the welfare of the population and the international prestige of Zimbabwe to retain power. The stake now was to win the presidential election in 2002. The President did everything in his power to secure re-election; violence and intimidation against opposition members, media and farmers and accelerated the implementation of restrictive laws limiting freedom of expression, press freedom, voting rights and legal protection. There have also been worrying developments within the judiciary. With the forced resignation of the Chief Justice and his replacement by a pro-government judge, the separation of powers has been dealt a serious blow. Police and other law enforcement agencies often show reluctance or impotence to intervene against intimidation and violence by government supporters against (alleged) opposition supporters and journalists of Zimbabwe's independent media..
Another instrument used by ZANU-PF in the presidential re-election campaign is still the land reform process, which was further accelerated in 2001, with so-called war veterans as shock troops. Unclear expropriation legislation and arbitrary decision-making by governments, intimidation and violence (often with impunity) by war veterans against farm workers and commercial farmers, and lack of knowledge and resources among the new owners of redistributed land, complete the chaos in the countryside. The war veterans also expanded their activities to the cities in an attempt to regain or enforce electoral support for the President. Businesses were confronted with forced strikes, threats and hostage-taking, organised by a new trade union linked to the government party; some decided to close their doors.
On 9, 10 and 11 March, the presidential elections took place. There was a high turnout in the cities, with long queues forming in front of polling stations. The High Court decided to hold a third election day in Harare and Chitungwiza (where most problems arose with long queues of voters unable to cast their votes before closing time). On 13 March, it was announced that Mugabe had won over 55% of the total of 3.1 million votes cast and was thus elected as the new president. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai declared that Mugabe's victory was not legitimate and would therefore not be recognised by the MDC. Tsvangirai cited intimidation and violence against the opposition, voters and the independent press, widespread obstruction of the electoral process by the Zimbabwean authorities and large-scale fraud as reasons for Mugabe's victory.
The international reaction to Mugabe's election victory has been mixed. The United States, Europe, the Commonwealth and the SADC Parliamentary Forum have condemned the entire electoral process, as well as the election result, because of the violence and the human rights violations that took place. Many, but not all, African countries and organisations have reacted positively to Mugabe's victory. On 17 March, Mugabe was inaugurated as president. European ambassadors did not attend the event. The Commonwealth decided to suspend Zimbabwe for one year.
Under great pressure from Nigerian President Obasanjo and South African President Mbeki, talks started in early April between the opposition party MDC and the ruling party ZANU-PF on the political situation and a possible power-sharing deal in Zimbabwe. A common agenda has been agreed, which includes discussion of legislation, constitution, legitimacy of elections, political violence, economic development and the land issue.
The current political situation is described in the history section.
Zimbabwe's economy is growing despite continuing political uncertainty. After a decade of contraction in 1998-2008, the economy grew by about 10% a year in 2010 and 2011. In 2012 and 2013, growth dropped to around 3.5% due to poor harvests and lower diamond yields. In 2017, the growth rate is 3.7%. The government of Zimbabwe faces a number of difficult economic challenges such as poor infrastructure and regulatory gaps. Furthermore, a large foreign debt burden, and insufficient formal employment play a role. These structural weaknesses continue to inhibit broad-based growth.
All this has led to an increase in poverty; now 72% of the population lives below the poverty line. Due to natural causes (floods in some regions, drought in others), but mainly due to political unrest (many farmers have not been able to plant or have planted less than usual), food shortages have arisen and famine is looming. The GNP per capita is therefore extremely low $ 2,300 (2017). Trade is mainly with China (export) and South Africa (import).
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