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Zimbabwe Is Short On Cash, Can't Afford Two Elections This Year

Zimbabwe's finance minister warns there's a difficult choice ahead - government coffers are low on cash and there's not enough money to pay for both a vote on a new constitution and a presidential election this year.

Profits from the country's diamond mines plunged this year; finance minister Tendai Biti says the government was promised $600 million in sales but has gotten about $19 million, notes AP.

So why hold the vote? Zimbabwe is currently headed by the only modern president it has ever had: 88-year-old Robert Mugabe, who's insisting on a presidential ballot. Mugabe is notorious for murdering thousands of Zimbabweans when he first came to power in 1980 and torturing tens of thousands more in his effort to crush opposition, notes journalist Peter Godwin. Mugabe may even unilaterally declare a date. "If there are those who don't want an election, they are free not to go to the polls", Mugabe said, as AP reports.

But Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe's prime minister and head of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change insists differently. He's calling for a new constitution first to avoid more bloodshed between his party and Mugabe's supporters. Tsvangirai is a long-time opponent of Mugabe who's been previously imprisoned and tortured.

It may come down to the cash. The Zimbabwean government has majority control of the country's diamond mines - and they've discovered one of the richest sources of diamonds yet. As VOA reports, there's fear money could be flowing to Mugabe supporters ahead of any proposed election, possibly to incite violence and keep people from voting.

Biti, the country's finance minister, is from Tsvangirai's party. He tells the Australian Broadcasting Company that billions of dollars may be missing.

And it's not just diamonds - Mugabe's party has just forced a major platinum company to give up majority control of its mines to the Zimbabwean government, according to Reuters.

The country's weak power-sharing government, brokered by the African Union in 2008 after violent elections, could fray further, with the chance of more violence in the future, notes the BBC.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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