28 March 2013

Zimbabwe: Mugabe Pushes Poll Dates Via Back Door

Photo: IRIN
Election day in Harare in 2008.

IN an opportunistic move set to trigger a political storm ahead of crucial general elections, President Robert Mugabe is making back-door manoeuvres through the High Court to secure an order declaring polls be held by or on June 29, as Zanu PF increasingly sweats over its uncertain political fate.

During this past week Mugabe and his Zanu PF officials have been strenuously lobbying for elections to be held by June 29, citing constitutional and legal grounds — dismissed by their political rivals and lawyers as expedient intrigues.

Zanu PF insiders say Mugabe and his loyalists now desperately want polls by June as fears mount the 89-year old leader, who recently made a veiled admission to growing senility and frailty, might struggle to sustain rigorous election campaigns.

In terms of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) and elections roadmap, Mugabe is required to proclaim election dates in consultation with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

Taking advantage of the on-going case of three by-elections in Matabeleland in which he is expected to proclaim dates by Sunday, Mugabe has filed an urgent application in the High Court seeking, in effect, to be excused from proclaiming the dates for the by-elections by March 31 as directed by Judge-President, Justice George Chiweshe on October 2 last year.

That followed a Supreme Court order initially directing Mugabe to proclaim by-election dates by August 30 last year. Mugabe's application, through Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa, is due to be heard by Chiweshe at the High Court in Harare today at 10 am.

Chinamasa says in the application, following the "Yes" vote in the March 16 constitutional referendum, parliament is expected to finish passing the new constitution by May 8 after which a proclamation on general elections will be gazetted immediately.

"It is anticipated that this stage of the process will be completed by May 8 2013 and a proclamation for harmonised elections will be published thereafter," Chinamasa says.

"In terms of the constitution, the life of parliament terminates on the June 29 2013 by which date harmonised elections must be held in the country."

Chinamasa further argues it does not make "economic or practical sense" to hold by-elections at about the same time it is anticipated to hold general elections.

"It is for the above reasons that the applicant (Mugabe) seeks this honourable court's indulgence to be excused from performance of the order requiring applicant to publish a proclamation of by-elections in the three constituencies by March 31 2013, on condition that the applicant ensures that harmonised elections are held by June 29 2013," he says.

Chinamasa then goes further to seek an interim order for Mugabe which should say: "That the applicant (Mugabe) be and is hereby excused from performance of the order granted in case No. 11222 of 2012 provided that harmonised elections are held on or before the June 29 2013".

If Chiweshe, who was in charge of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission in 2008, grants Mugabe the order sought, this would mean the veteran politician and Zanu PF would secure general elections dates by June 29 through the courts, but effectively via the political backdoor.

Despite Mugabe's claims that elections must be held on June 29, but according to Section 58 (1) of the current constitution, polls can be held four months after the date of dissolution of parliament, meaning they can be pushed back as far as October 29.

Given Mugabe's old age and health problems, this is not helpful to Zanu PF.

Veritas, a lawyers' grouping that specialises in monitoring parliamentary activities, yesterday said Chinamasa's claims that because parliament ends on June 29 elections should be held by that date were wrong.

"There is no law that says the elections must be held by June 29," the group said, citing Section 58 of the current constitution. "Section 58 (1) of the present constitution allows four months for elections to be held after parliament comes to an end and the new constitution does not lay down a period within which the first election must be held."

In his founding affidavit, Chinamasa says Mugabe could not proclaim by-elections dates by March 31 because of political processes underway ahead of polls. He says following the adoption of the new constitution, there would be need to gazette a Constitutional Amendment Bill at least 30 days before it is introduced in parliament for debate by the Lower House and Senate over four days.

He says following adoption of the new constitution, there would have to be amendments to the Electoral Act to "usher in the electoral process".

MDC leader Welshman Ncube, also a constitutional law professor, yesterday said Mugabe was trying to manipulate the courts to order that elections be held by June 29 "through the back door.

"They are seeking a court order which, instead of postponing the date by which they are supposed to proclaim the dates for the by-elections, will direct that general elections must be held by June 29," said Ncube. "This is a dishonest and manipulative application which seeks to foist elections dates on Zimbabweans through the courts."

Ncube said Mugabe and Chinamasa's plans would not work because political and electoral processes, guided by the constitution, law and negotiations, would not allow that. Ncube said even if the new constitution is adopted by May 8, Mugabe could not proclaim general elections dates immediately after as there are 30 days needed for voters' registration before poll dates are announced.

He said in terms of the constitution, proclamation and voter registration cannot be done concurrently. Besides, Ncube said there must be 58 days between proclamation of election dates and the actual voting. "All these things combined make it impossible to have general elections by or on June 29," he said. "If courts order that, there will be a political crisis which will make things even more complicated."

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