JOHANNESBURG -- Public meetings held throughout Zimbabwe, intended to seek input for the drafting of a new constitution, have been suspended due to violence, evoking memories of the country's bloody 2008 presidential election and boding ill for the prospects of free and fair elections scheduled for next year.
In the latest twist in Zimbabwe's ongoing political crisis, the Constitutional Parliamentary Committee suspended the outreach exercise late last month, following violence in most parts of the country, particularly the capital, Harare, and the second-largest city, Bulawayo. Two deaths and dozens of injuries were reported.
The army and supporters of President Robert Mugabe have been identified as the perpetrators in some incidents. Similar acts of violence occurred in the run-up to the internationally condemned June 2008 presidential run-off election that allowed Mugabe to continue his 30-year reign. At that time, fearing a defeat at the hands of Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai, the military and Mugabe's supporters unleashed one of the darkest periods in Zimbabwe's history. The ensuing violence left hundreds of MDC supporters dead and injured, and an estimated 500,000 people internally displaced. According to the official tally, Tsvangirai won a plurality of first-round votes but not enough to prevent a run-off election.