PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s vacation in the Far East has sparked a furore among civil society groups that are calling on him to return and tackle the unraveling constitution revision process.
Mugabe left Harare for Asia on Thursday where he will spend between three and four weeks with his family.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CZC), an umbrella body representing different civil society groups, raised concern on Friday saying Mugabe’s absence will slow down the pace of reforms expected before elections next year.
“We urge the president to cut short his vacation and help resolve the crisis at home so that Zimbabwe can make democratic progress before the next elections,” CZC said in a statement.
“Zimbabwe remains at a critical transitional juncture and we call upon its leaders to prioritise implementation of the necessary reforms rather than long vacations as we face a watershed” vote.
Presidential spokesman George Charamba had earlier sought to preempt the outrage saying “there is no necessary link with him (Mugabe) going on leave and the progress of the constitution-making process.”
But the civil society groups differed saying Mugabe needed to be present to negotiate a lasting solution to the stalled new charter effort and implement several other political and democratic reforms convenient for a free and fair ballot.
“Even though … Charamba insists that the absence of the president will not adversely affect the finalization of the constitution and other reforms, political developments on the ground suggest otherwise,” CZC added.
Constitutional Affairs Minister Eric Matinenga appeared to agree saying even a cross-party ministerial panel set up to iron out differences was also likely to be affected by holiday absenteeism.
"As you are aware we are now in the holiday season and it’s going to take a bit of time to get everybody who should be consulted because some people would have gone on holiday," he told VOA.
The ministerial commitee has been holding meetings over the past few days but a resolution has remained elusive as both Zanu PF and the two MDC formations remain entrenched in their diametric positions.
A meeting on Thursday tasked the panel's members to go and brief their respective parties on the negotiations and "get further instructions as to what should be happening in the future."
Zanu PF says there are more than 30 sticking points, including devolution of power which it wants scrapped. But the MDC parties have played down the magnitude of differences saying only a few disagreements remain.
The CZC cited US President Barack Obama who was forced to abandon his family holiday on Thursday to deal with the so-called “fiscal cliff” that will trigger tax increases for all Americans if Republicans and Democrats do not strike a deal in the next three days.
While details of Mugabe’s schedule and destination were not released, he told a local weekly recently that he will likely vacation in China. “I am going to have a bit of a holiday and I am going to travel, possibly to China,” Mugabe said.
Since he was slapped with Western sanctions over charges of gross human rights violations and electoral fraud, Mugabe has turned to the Far East and made Asia his primary holidaying destination.
He has also paid frequent visits, especially to Singapore, allegedly to receive treatment for advanced cancer.
But Mugabe and his surrogates have vehemently dismissed the reports insisting the veteran leader is in good health.