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14 Jun 2013 00:00
Firm: Morgan Tsvangirai says Robert Mugabe cannot force elections on him. (Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters)
President Robert Mugabe on Thursday found himself with the upper hand, but also in a complicated situation after he proclaimed the harmonised poll date as July 31.
More legal impediments stand in his way, including a flurry of challenges placed before the Constitutional Court this week as well as a rejection of the date by the Movement for Democratic Change.
Mugabe resorted to using the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act after it became apparent to him that Parliament would not have finished amending the Electoral Act to bring it into sync with the new Constitution by July 31.
At a press briefing, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said Mugabe cannot force him into an election and he has instructed his lawyers to file an urgent court application seeking to stop the polls being held on July 31. He said Mugabe's announcement was a "unilateral and flagrant breach of the Constitution".
Tsvangirai also said holding an election would mean cutting short the 30-day voter registration process that is under way, and this would disenfranchise potential voters and deny political parties a chance to inspect the voters' roll.
Zimbabwe's wrangling over the poll date will also play out on Saturday in Maputo, Mozambique, during a Southern African Development Community summit, which was initially planned for last week but was postponed on Zanu-PF's insistence that it still wanted to consult further following the court ruling.
That meeting and the outstanding legal challenges will be key to determining the date.
Among cases before the courts are:
On Tuesday, Mugabe led a Cabinet meeting that managed to successfully align existing laws with the new Constitution, which was adopted last month. The government, however, faced a dilemma in that certain laws, such as the Electoral Act, were not in sync with the new supreme law and had to be amended before an election could take place.
After the Cabinet meeting, Justice and Legal Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa confirmed that Cabinet had endorsed amendments recommended by the unity government negotiators.
Chinamasa said that in addition to legislative changes, Cabinet agreed that election results will be pinned outside each polling station and candidates will receive copies of the results. He also said that all parties can have up to three representatives at each polling station.
Electoral Act headaches
After the Cabinet agreements, legal experts this week pointed out that the electoral amendments still need to be passed by Parliament, assented to by the president and gazetted before Mugabe can name an election date.
Veritas, a group of lawyers, said in order to comply with the new Constitution, changes had to be made to suit constitutional requirements that:
Veritas had said it was unlikely these changes and the ensuing parliamentary process could be completed in the limited time available.
The Constitution also requires at least 44 days from proclamation date to polling date, of which at least 30 must be provided between the nomination of candidates and the election. Longer periods can be fixed within the confines of the electoral laws.
Veritas had said that unless the Electoral Bill has been passed by Parliament, signed by the president and gazetted as law on or before June 17, it will be impossible for the president to proclaim an election before or for July 31.
Furthermore, it said nominations could only take place after July 9, when the voter registration process that started on Monday is complete. Doing so before then would be violating the Constitution.
To get around these legal challenges, Mugabe on Thursday invoked the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act, effectively allowing him to proclaim the election date.
In a letter to Tsvangirai, seen by the M&G on Thursday, Mugabe said it was not possible for him to wait for Parliament to pass the Electoral Act if he was going to comply with the Constitutional Court deadline and it became "necessary" for him to use the Presidential Powers Act.
Mugabe was also locked in the party's politburo meeting on Wednesday and Thursday, which would finalise rules and dates for his own party to carry out primary elections to choose candidates to represent it at the polls.
This paper last week reported that the party was not prepared for polls, and there was strong opposition to its rules for selection of candidates from its women's and youth leagues.
The party had indicated at its December conference that it would hold primary elections in February, but it has not done so. Sources in the party say this is due to factional fights.
Its Masvingo branch has also threatened to campaign for the opposition if the party does not take its demands for a change of rules seriously.
Sources who were attending the politburo meeting said the party could hold its primaries on June 22. By the time of going to press, the Zanu-PF politburo had not ended or put out an official statement.
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