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* Zimbabwe cannot deliver legitimate vote “right now”, Biti says
* Unity government has “outlived” usefulness
* International community must fund Zimbabwe vote
By Stella Mapenzauswa
JOHANNESBURG, April 8 (Reuters) - Zimbabwe is on track for another flawed election this year unless it can refresh outdated voter lists, approve “an army” of outsider observers and find foreign donors willing to pay for the vote, Finance Minister Tendai Biti said on Monday.
However, postponing the poll to maintain a stop-gap unity government between President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is not an option, with the fractious coalition well past its sell-by date, Biti told a Reuters Africa Summit.
“I don’t think we are in a position today, right now, of having legitimate, credible, sustainable elections,” Biti, a leading member of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change, said.
“At the rate we are going, it is obvious that we are going to have another flawed election ... Zimbabweans cannot afford another flawed election.”
Zimbabweans last month approved a new constitution curbing presidential powers that critics say have been used by Mugabe to entrench his 33-year rule. The referendum removed the main barrier to an election in the second half of this year after a disputed 2008 poll.
But more reforms are needed to reassure investors who have withheld support over charges of human rights abuses and election-rigging by Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and criticism of policies such as his seizure of white-owned farms for blacks.
The unity pact between ZANU-PF and the MDC has gone some way towards arresting an economy damaged by more than a decade of hyper-inflation which rendered the Zimbabwe dollar worthless.
Inflation has slowed to single digits while growth is seen above 5 percent this year after contracting for a decade before the unity government was established.
But progress has been hampered by wrangling between ministers from the two camps and investors are worried about conflicting signals on policies such as the transfer of at least 51 percent ownership in foreign-owned firms to local blacks.
“The inclusive government has done well in giving our people a timeout against the economic failures of the ZANU-PF regime,” Biti said. “But I think it has outlived its usefulness.”
“We need sustainable, legitimate, credible election outcomes in Zimbabwe, and to me that is our number one factor arresting the economy.”
The international community would have to foot the bill for the vote, Biti said, as Harare’s coffers have been bled dry by a recent census and the constitutional referendum last month.
“For any country, let alone a country like Zimbabwe with a budget of $4 billion and a GDP of $12 billion, that’s a huge strain,” Biti said.
Harare is still struggling with more than $10 billion in arrears to the World Bank, the IMF and the African Development Bank, meaning it cannot access multilateral funding needed to overhaul its dilapidated infrastructure.
“The bottom line is that the international community must accept the obligation on its shoulders. And by the international community I also include South Africa,” Biti said.
Africa’s biggest economy, which has absorbed an estimated 2.5 million Zimbabweans fleeing the political and economic downturn, would bear the brunt of another meltdown in its northern neighbour, he said.
“But that doesn’t mean the international community should give Zimbabwe a blank cheque. If Zimbabwe wants to be part of the international community, it has to play by the rules.” (Follow Reuters Summits on Twitter @Reuters_Summits) (Editing by Ed Cropley and Alison Williams)