The Supreme Court has ordered President Robert Mugabe to proclaim a date for general elections, saying the poll must come no later than July 31 this year.
Delivering the judgment of 7 of the 9 judges on the Supreme Court bench, chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku ordered President Mugabe to proclaim dates for presidential, parliamentary and council elections as soon as possible but no later than July 31.
The chief justice said the president’s failure to proclaim election dates by this time would be a violation of his duty to protect the law.
The court, sitting as a constitutional court, ruled that Mr. Mugabe’s failure to declare an election date violated the voter rights of activist Jealousy Mawarire, especially after the court ruled that the life of the current parliament expires on June 29.
Mr. Mawarire filed a case with the court challenging Mr. Mugabe to set election dates by June 29, arguing that the executive risked violating the constitution. But Justice Chidyausiku said it was now legally impossible to hold elections by June 29.
Mr. Mugabe’s lawyer, Terrence Hussein, said the president will comply with the court’s decision. He said, in fact, the president didn’t have an argument against the holding of elections.
Mr. Hussein added that the judgment that was handed down was not contrary to their interpretation of the constitution.
The plaintiff, Mr. Mawarire, welcomed the court ruling.
“Naturally we are excited, we are happy. I think as a country we should know when elections are supposed to be held. It should not be a question of public or media conjecture,” said Mawarire.
Mr. Mawarire said the issue came with the three political parties deciding on when elections should be held as the move was a question of legality not whether it's practical or desirable for a political party.
Despite the ruling, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai maintains that elections should only be held after key democratic reforms have been implemented.
“A date of elections must be process driven. In other word it must be dependent on the fulfillment on key issues or key processes that have a bearing of the freeness and fairness of the election,” said MDC-T spokesman Douglas Mwonzora.
Mr. Mwonzora said these reforms include the completion of a satisfactory voter registration exercise, the eradication of all forms of state sponsored violence, the freeing of the media space and security sector reform.
He said those reforms should not require much time to be instituted.
Meanwhile, the Southern African Development Community is expected to hold an extra-ordinary summit on Zimbabwe to discuss the implementation of the Global Political Agreement and election funding. A date for that summit has yet to be announced.
With political considerations aside, constitutional law expert and chairman of the constitutional assembly, lovemore madhuku, calls the ruling “sound.”
But while the courts have spoken, this does not appear to resolve the matter for everyone concerned. VOA sought reaction to the court ruling from a variety of leaders. The MDC Tsvangirai formation feels security and other reforms must be implemented before the elections, but ZANU-PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo told VOA that his party has no objection to the July 31st deadline and is ready for the polls.
Political agreement on the date may be moot, as the country reportedly cannot even fund the polls. Finance minister Tendai Biti said the treasury simply does not have the money.
Despite the financial constraints, according to an interview given to the Herald newspaper, the Electoral Commission’s deputy chairperson Joyce Kazembe said the electoral body is technically ready for elections.
ZANU-PF said it is hopeful that SADC will help Zimbabwe pay for the elections. While that remains at open question at this point, advisor to South African president Jacob Zuma and SADC-appointed mediator in Harare, Lindiwe Zulu, said her team will be in Harare next week to discuss the election roadmap.