29 September 2012

Zimbabwe: Court to Decide On 2013 Election Dates

JUDGE President George Chiweshe will on Monday either confirm or reject President Mugabe's proposal that harmonised elections be held in March next year.

He will make the decision when he rules on the urgency of a chamber application in which the President is seeking a further extension of the by-elections deadline from October 1 to March 31 next year.

President Mugabe has since indicated that he wants to call for harmonised elections in the last week of March next year.

The judge is also expected to determine whether it is legally correct for Justice and Legal Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa to depose an affidavit in the application on behalf of the President.

Ex-legislators Abednico Bhebhe (Nkayi South), Njabuliso Mguni (Lupane East) and Norman Mpofu (Bulilima East) approached the courts to enforce the holding of by-elections after they lost their seats when they defected from the MDC.

Representing the three, who obtained the order for the proclamation of the by-elections date, Ms Beatrice Mtetwa said Minister Chinamasa was not qualified to depose the affidavit.

She said at least the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission or Finance Minister Tendai Biti could have deposed the affidavit, stating the financial difficulties in holding the by-elections and the challenges facing the Government in logistics.

Ms Mtetwa wants the judge to determine whether or not it was proper for an officer from the Attorney-General to sign a certificate of urgency in the case.

The AG's Office is the one representing President Mugabe in the case.

Ms Mtetwa also argued that the matter was not urgent considering that the same request for postponement of compliance with the Supreme Court order had been made before.

"It seems like the matter is now becoming urgent on a monthly basis," said Ms Mtetwa.

Advocate Ray Goba, who is being instructed by the AG's office, said there was no law prohibiting a lawyer in the same office with a litigant's representatives to grant a certificate of urgency.

Adv Goba said there was nothing improper about an officer from the AG to certify the application.

He also told The Herald that the matter was urgent and that "it continues to be urgent as long as there are deadlines".

Adv Goba said Minister Chinamasa was qualified to depose an affidavit in the case because he is a Cabinet Minister.

He said Minister Chinamasa is responsible for administering the Electoral Act.

In the application, the President contends that Government has no funds to conduct the by-elections when harmonised polls are expected in six months.

The by-elections are expected to cost US$47 547 036, while the constitutional referendum would gobble US$104 651 273.

The harmonised elections, expected in March next year, will chew up to US$115 374 890.

President Mugabe requested that the by-election date be postponed to March 31 when the harmonised elections will be conducted, considering the unavailability of financial resources.

Mid this year, the Supreme Court gave the President up to August 30 to publish the by-elections date.

He successfully sought extension of the deadline to October 1 through an urgent chamber application.

The President is now asking for further postponement of the deadline to March 31.

He argued that the vacant seats were spread across the country, making them more costly to hold.

Bhebhe, Mguni and Mpofu were expelled from MDC and subsequently relieved of their parliamentary positions.

They instituted court action after declaring interest in contesting for the constituencies as independent candidates.

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