PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is in a crisis on the issue of holding fresh polls amid cracks within the inclusive government on whether the country should go for a snap poll or restrict itself to the three constituencies directed by the Supreme Court.
The ZANU-PF leader's headaches have been compounded by a push by hardliners within his party to capitalise on what they perceive to be an electoral opportunity handed to them by the country's highest court of appeal, by extending voting to all seats, instead of concentrating on the vacant ones only.
ZANU-PF has a standing resolution reached at its December 2011 conference held in Bulawayo for the country to hold harmonised elections this year to collapse the unity government formed in February 2009 following the signing of the Global Political Agreement (GPA).
Matters have also been made worse by deep-seated differences of opnion on the issue of elections not only between ZANU-PF and its coalition partners, but also between the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formations themselves.
Last week, the Supreme Court passed a unanimous decision ordering Presidential proclamations before the end of next month for by-elections in three Matabeleland House of Assembly constituencies - Nkayi South, Bulilima East and Lupane East.
The three seats fell vacant after their representatives - Abdenico Bhebhe, Njabuliso Mguni and Norman Mpofu -- were booted out of the MDC headed by Welshman Ncube for allegedly aligning themselves with the MDC-T, but they went on to institute legal proceedings pressing for fresh polls to enable them to contest as independents, which the highest court in the land granted.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's party has said polls should only be held in the three constituencies, but the splinter MDC formation has indicated that a legal precedent has already been set for them to be called in all the 24 vacant House of Assembly and Senate constituencies.
The Ncube-led MDC also wants parties to honour a GPA requirement for the three governing parties not to contest against each other during the life of the inclusive government, with their rivals saying that pact has long expired.
In an interview yesterday, President Mugabe's spokesperson, George Charamba, declined to comment saying it was a legal matter that should be handled by his principal's lawyers.
However, President Mugabe's lawyer in the matter, advocate Ray Goba, said government officials were the ones who should comment as his brief ends in court.
"I am surprised Charamba referred you to me. I am an advocate, I was instructed and I don't speak on behalf of government. Even if I was working for the government, I was not going to comment on that because government officials are the ones who should comment on that," said Goba.
MDC-T spokesperson, Douglas Mwonzora, said polls should be held only in the three constituencies adding that the by-elections were a necessary barometer to gauge whether ZANU-PF and its leader (pictured) where serious or just paying lip service in denouncing politically-motivated violence.
Asked what would be the MDC-T's position should wholesale polls be called, Mwonzora said: "In Lenin's words there is no prescribed method of struggle.
Each method depends on the circumstances that exist at each particular moment. Similarly, we will deal with matters as and when they arise." On the other hand, MDC spokesperson Nhlanhla Dube, said in addition to the three seats, their party's position was that all the vacant Lower and Upper house vacant seats must be decided and filled through by elections called simultaneously with the three.
The Supreme Court's decision also creates a precedent for demanding meetings of provincial assemblies of chiefs in Manicaland and Matabeleland to fill the two vacant chiefs' seats in the senate.
Dube warned that the Supreme Court ruling must not be used as a pretext to fast track the calling of general elections anytime before the full implementation of agreed reforms such as media reform, constitutional-making, an end to political violence, cleaning up of the voters' roll as well as the de-politicisation of the police, army and other State institutions.
"It is also prudent to mention that the Maputo inter party dialogue of 2010 convened by the Southern African Development Community came out with a decision that bound the three political parties in the GPA not to contest each other in any by election during the life of the GPA. This means that since those that have challenged and won the case in the Supreme court and are, by way of public record, members of the MDC-T, cannot contest the by-elections. It is essential to make this abundantly clear," Dube said.
Legal watchdog, Veritas said depending on when President Mugabe calls for polls in compliance with the Supreme Court's verdict, voting may be in September at the earliest or November at the latest.
"The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission must then conduct the by-elections following the proclamation dates. The Electoral Act allows a minimum of 14 days and a maximum of 21 days between the date a proclamation is gazetted and the sitting of the nomination court; and a minimum of 28 days and a maximum of 50 days for campaigning between nomination day and polling day or last polling day," said Veritas.
"So, if the President gazettes a proclamation on August 31, polling could be as late as 10th November i.e. 71 days after the gazetting of the proclamation. Conversely, if he gazettes a proclamation, this week, on 18th July, and uses the minimum periods, polling could be as soon as the 1st of September."
On June 6 this year, Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara told the House of Assembly that there was a real possibility that Zimbabwe could go for polls in November without reforms.