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FACTBOX-Political risks to watch in Zimbabwe

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 8 Feb 2013 17:28 GMT
Author: Reuters
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HARARE, Feb 8 (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's power-sharing government has agreed on a long-awaited constitution, and is preparing for a referendum on it that will pave way for a general election that President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party wants by mid-year.

But the polls could be delayed to later in the year as the unity government failed to start voter registration on time in January over cash problems, and has only started to look for over ${esc.dollar}200 million from foreign donors to fund the votes.

The constitution and the presidential and parliamentary elections are part of a political deal between Mugabe and his rival Morgan Tsvangirai that led to the formation of a coalition government following a violent and disputed vote in 2008.

Political analysts are concerned that another violent election campaign by the youth brigades of Mugabe's ZANU-PF and veterans of a 1970s independence war could stifle the delicate recovery of an economy which crashed by 40 percent in a decade of hyperinflation and food and fuel shortages.

ELECTION VIOLENCE

Mugabe, in power since independence in 1980, has called for peaceful elections, but critics say ZANU-PF militants are already preparing an intimidation campaign against Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in the countryside.

ZANU-PF dismisses the reports as propaganda.

What to watch:

- Whether there is co-ordinated violence and how the 15-nation Southern African Development Community reacts.

NEW CONSTITUTION

An agreement between ZANU-PF and the MDC on the new constitution - which they had haggled over for three years - has reduced chances of violence during a referendum expected between March and April.

The compromise document curtails presidential powers, expands media freedom and strengthens cabinet and parliament in the running of the state.

What to watch:

- Any reaction to a campaign by civic groups opposed to the adoption of the new constitution over complaints that it was produced by political parties and not "people-driven".

MUGABE SUCCESSION

Mugabe, who turns 89 later this month, is ZANU-PF's presidential candidate despite his advanced age, reported ill health and disastrous economic record.

Although ZANU-PF factions are positioning themselves to take over from Mugabe, many in the party have accepted that the future of the party is tied to his fate.

What to watch:

- Whether Mugabe clips the wings of potential successors to keep his grip on power.

SLOWING GROWTH

The government sees slower growth in 2013 mainly due to fears of a repeat of election violence.

ZANU-PF's push for foreign companies to turn over majority stakes to locals has soured investor sentiment in a country already seen as highly risky.

What to watch:

- ZANU-PF trying to boost its coffers ahead of the election by extending the local ownership policy to more parts of the economy. Critics see the ownership push as intended more to benefit Mugabe's political allies than the poor masses.

FOOD SHORTAGES

Zimbabwe is expecting a drop in food output this year due to drought in the south and floods in some parts of the north, raising fears of severe shortages in a country which has struggled to feed itself since Mugabe's seizure of white-owned commercial farms 13 years ago.

United Nations agencies said Zimbabwe would need at least ${esc.dollar}131 million in aid this year, the bulk for food assistance after a failed farming season left nearly 1.7 million facing hunger.

What to watch:

- How Zimbabwe manages food aid, or reacts to potential restlessness over the food shortages. (Reporting By Cris Chinaka; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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