Mugabe forced to the Polls in July

The Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe, has said he will abide by a court ruling that crucial elections must be held before the end of July, despite objections from his rivals. Mugabe told the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp travelling with him on a trip to Japan that he would convene polls “not later than 31 July”, state radio reported. Mugabe, interviewed by the broadcaster today, claimed some members in a coalition with Morgan Tsvangirai, the prime minister and former opposition leader, wanted to delay the elections “to enjoy being in power” for longer, the radio said. The constitutional court, the nation’s highest court, on Friday chided Mugabe for not calling elections linked to the dissolution of the parliament at the end of its current five-year term on 29 June.

Tsvangirai said electoral and democratic reforms demanded under the coalition agreement and a new constitution could not be completed by 31 July. Mugabe travelled to Japan to attend an African development summit in Yokahama. He described the coalition formed by regional leaders after the last violent and disputed elections in 2008 as having “outlived its usefulness”, the radio said. The president said he was consulting the justice minister, Patrick Chinamasa, on changes to the electoral laws that should be finished in June so he could announce the actual polling date for the following month. Tsvangirai’s party said on Sunday that unless reforms to voters’ lists and the registration of new voters were in place before voting there would be doubt over whether conditions allowed for a free and fair election.

Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change said it also demanded media reforms to end bias by the country’s dominant state media controlled by Mugabe loyalists and an end to political intimidation and partisan actions by the police and military. Those demands are written into a new constitution that was overwhelmingly accepted in a referendum in March, the party said. “For the avoidance of any doubt, the MDC is ready for free and fair elections. The issue is not about the date but about the conditions under which these elections can be held,” said the party spokesman Douglas Mwonzora. Pro-democracy activists allege Mugabe’s own fractious Zanu-PF party wants early polls to take advantage of flaws in existing election procedures, shorten rigorous campaigning by its increasingly frail leader and hinder the deployment of regional election monitors.

Mugabe, 89, who led the nation to independence in 1980, has been accused of packing the courts with sympathetic judges whom he appoints from the justice ministry and the legal profession. Seven out of nine constitutional court judges ruled on Friday that Mugabe had violated his constitutional responsibilities by failing to declare polls by 29 June. But Judge Luke Malaba, in his dissenting opinion available on an official website on Sunday, said his colleagues’ ruling “defied logic” in finding Mugabe was in breach of his constitutional responsibilities “and at the same time authorising him to continue acting unlawfully” by proclaiming a July date. “That is a very dangerous principle and has no basis in law. The principle of the rule of law just does not permit such an approach,” wrote Malaba. He said the new constitution made it clear that elections could be held within four months of the automatic dissolution of the parliament on 29 June and to hold them in July compromised constitutional rights for the electorate as a whole “to play a meaningful role in the electoral process”, Malaba said. A private lawsuit brought before the constitutional court to force Mugabe to call early polls turned clear and unambiguous language in the law into “a question of interpretation that plunged the court into irreconcilable differences”. “I, however, refuse to have wool cast over the inner eye of my mind on this matter,” concluded Malaba.

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