THE full Supreme Court bench yesterday threw the coalition government into political turmoil after it ordered President Robert Mugabe to call for a string of by-elections before the end of next month in a shock ruling which could change the current composition of parliament and collapse the Global Political Agreement (GPA).The court’s judgement could lead the country into a mini-general election or leave the main political parties engaged in renewed combat and negotiations over the timing of full general elections.
It could also have far-reaching implications, not just for the GPA and inclusive government, but also Sadc facilitation and resolutions.
Internally, it could change the balance of forces in politics as it might drastically change the composition of parliament and the fortunes of the three GPA parties. The ruling might also affect Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s positions, powers and authority.
The Supreme Court judgement follows an appeal by Mugabe contesting a 2011 High Court order calling on him to proclaim by-election dates pleading the state had no money to conduct polls for the 29 outstanding parliamentary vacancies.
High Court judge Justice Nicholas Ndou ruled in favour of former MDC MPs Abednico Bhebhe, Njabuliso Mguni and Norman Mpofu after they had sought an order compelling Mugabe to call for by-elections following their expulsion from parliament. However, Mugabe had appealed Ndou’s ruling.
Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku yesterday read the court’s unanimous decision to throw out Mugabe’s appeal.
“The respondent (the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe) is hereby ordered to publish in the (Government) Gazette a notice ordering new elections to fill the vacancies as soon as possible, but by no later than 30 August 2012,” Chidyausiku said.
Although Mugabe lost the appeal, the court ruling fits into his political designs supported by a cabal of his diehards in Zanu PF, the Joint Operations Command (JOC) and in the politburo, including Jonathan Moyo who have been calling for general elections before the end of the year with or without full implementation of agreed reforms stipulated under the GPA.
Moyo, who sits at the centre of Zanu PF strategic thinking and planning, spearheaded calls for elections with or without reforms since the beginning of this year. He also demanded by-elections.
“Anyhow, if these long overdue by-elections were to be held today, as they really must, the result could be equivalent to a mini-general election,” wrote Moyo.
“That could see one of the GPA parties in parliament emerging with a majority of at least 106 seats out of 210 with the consequence of sinking the GPA and its so-called unity government, not to mention kissing Copac goodbye.”
The Supreme Court’s decision throws Mugabe a lifeline to push his agenda for elections this year after he was recently stopped in his tracks by Sadc at their extraordinary summit in Luanda, Angola. Sadc leaders want elections next year.
In terms of the constitution, elections are due by June next year although they could be held by the end of October.
In terms of the constitution, elections are due by June next year although they could be held by the end-October.
Mugabe’s lawyer Advocate Ray Goba, who was instructed by the Attorney General Civil Division, accepted the court’s decision and said he expects his client to comply with the order. “That is the court’s decision,” said Goba. “The highest court has ruled and so we expect that the order would be complied with.”
A senior Zanu PF official said the ruling would force Mugabe to “uphold the rule of law” and call for a “mini-general election” or full general elections.
“The rule of law has to take precedence. What this means is that the president has to call for a mini-general election or full general elections this year,” the official said. “Given that there are no resources to fund separate by-elections, referendum and general elections, it would be better for the president to just call for general elections, also to avoid keeping the country in a perpetual election mode.”
The official said the by-elections were critical as they could lead to a “collapse of the GPA and this dysfunctional government”, as well as change the composition of parliament and prospects of the main parties in the next elections.
The coalition government did not call for any by-elections since its formation after the three parties had inserted a moratorium in the GPA preventing them from contesting against each other for the first 12 months of the inclusive government’s lifespan. The moratorium was further extended by another year and expired in September 2010.
The holding of the by-elections and subsequent results can alter the political fortunes of all the three coalition partners and set up of government.
Zimbabwe may still remain with a hung parliament if the MDC led by Welshman Ncube wins back seats from defectors, while Zanu PF and MDC-T fail to increase their numbers signifcantly.
The by-elections could also spell a death knell for Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara if he fails to play a role in them, while keeping the GPA intact to secure his position. If Zanu PF wins a majority it could also dump the other parties in government.
“If Zanu PF gets the magic 106 seats, it will control both parliament and the presidency and may dump the MDC formations to govern alone,” said a party official. “Alternatively, if the MDC-T gains the majority, Mugabe would become a lame duck president or be forced to rule by decree.”
Zanu PF secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa said: “The (Supreme Court) order has not provided the financial resources for the by-elections. The party is still to meet and deliberate on our position after this development.”
This ruling dovetails with political developments within the government. Last week, the cabinet agreed on the outstanding Electoral Act Amendment and Zimbabwe Human Rights Bills which had been on the shelves for the last two years.
On Tuesday Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa steered the two bills through the crucial committee stage in one sitting with minor amendments in parliament.
A fortnight ago Finance minister Tendai Biti told the state-run Sunday Mail Treasury set aside US$100 million set aside for elections from the SDRs advanced by International Monetary Fund.
Reacting to the ruling, Biti last night said there is no money to fund by-elections. “The fiscal capacity is non-existent. We are going to drastically cut the budget which I would be presenting in my mid-term policy next week,” he said.
MDC secretary general Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga: “It makes absolutely no sense to have the by-elections now when soon after reforms we should be holding general elections. However, the relevant authorities have to make a decision on how they are going to deal with the Supreme Court decision.”
The Supreme Court order is the second significant judgment under the coalition government after it ordered a re-run of the Speaker of parliament election earlier last year. This was after Jonathan Moyo had cited irregularities in the election of Speaker Lovemore Moyo. The order gave Zanu PF a second chance to try and win parliament’s top post, although it was defeated again.
Through a concentration of violence and intimidation, Zanu PF has managed to bulldoze it way in by-elections since 2000. It reversed MDC’s 2000 victories by reclaiming Bikita in 2001, Insiza 2002 and Zengeza in 2003. The party now wants to use these by-elections regain control of parliament after id defeat in March 2008.