Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has ratcheted up tension in the country's long-troubgled government of national unity with a tacit threat to dissolve Parliament and call new elections without waiting for a new constitution to be put in place.
Mr. Mugabe, described by local media as “fit and very lively” despite reports he had undergone surgery for prostate cancer, said he had a constitutional right to call for elections if the government failes to take a position on a new ballot.
The state-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation quoted him as warning that “for those who do not want [to reach agreement on when new elections should be held] we will dissolve Parliament and go for an election under the old constitution.”
Under 2008 Global Political Agreement underpinning the nearly two-year-old unity government, the unity government’s lifespan comes to an end in February. But the three ruling parties could agree to extend the life of the government, which despite constant quarreling among its members has restored a modicum of stability to the country.
Deputy Prime Minister Welshman Ncube, head of the smaller formation of the Movement for Democratic Change, one of the three governing parties, told VOA Studio 7 reporter Ntungamili Nkomo that Mr. Mugabe does not have the right to dissolve Parliament and call elections as long as the Global Political Agreement remains in effect.
"He doesn't have that right," declared Ncube. "As long as the GPA is in existence, he has no such power without the concurrance of the other parties."
Ncube’s sentiments were echoed by Nelson Chamisa, spokesman for the larger MDC wing headed by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
Chamisa told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri that it would be foolhardy for Mr. Mugabe to call for new elections without the consent of the MDC. "Those are misguided threats in our view," Chamisa said. "ZANU-PF can not do so unilaterally."
Observers worry that early elections without braod political, constitutional and electoral reforms could result in a violent poll and a disputed outcome, as in 2008.
Legal analyst Brian Brown of the Harare-based think-tank Veritas offered the opinion that Mr. Mugabe would only have the right to call new elections if power-sharing ends.
South African President Jacob Zuma, mediator in Harare on behalf of the Southern African Development Community, is in the midst of drafting a roadmap to the next elections aimed at producing a credible, violence-free ballot.
Elsewhere, US Ambassador Charles Ray on Monday dismissed a ZANU-PF campaign to collect at least 2 million signatures from Zimbabweans to support the party's call for Western targeted sanctions on Mr. Mugabe and his inner circle to be lifted.