Mugabe and his bagful of tricks

FOR 32 years since he came to power, President Robert Mugabe has consistently outwitted his opponents and detractors through various strategies and tactics ranging from persuasion to violence to secure his continued reign.

Report by Herbert Moyo

Mugabe has used whichever methods he deemed fit at different junctures of his rule — uninterrupted since Independence in 1980 — including amending the constitution, manipulation of laws and state institutions, gerrymandering, vote-rigging and state brutality when cornered.

After coming to power in 1980 following a protracted liberation war and bruising power struggles with Zanu PF, Mugabe, who left a trail of political and even bodily casualties on his way to the top, instinctively became obsessed with ruthless consolidation and retention of power.

Faced with a tricky situation recently over by-elections, Mugabe pulled one of the many tricks up his sleeve in a bid to manipulate the issue to his advantage.

He turned to the courts last week and won a stay of execution allowing him to defer by-elections in three vacant constituencies the Supreme Court had ordered he should proclaim poll dates for, initially by August, later in October and now in March next year.

Analysts say while on the surface it appeared Mugabe had lost several rounds in the by-elections case, in reality the situation fitted his political designs. The situation fitted in snugly with his strategy to hold early elections next year before implementing outstanding reforms as outlined in the Global Political Agreement (GPA), while his age and deteriorating health still permit.

Former legislators Abednico Bhebhe, Njabuliso Mguni and Norman Mpofu had successfully dragged Mugabe to court to force him to call for by-elections after they lost their seats when they were expelled from the MDC led by Welshman Ncube. The Supreme Court ruled in their favour and gave Mugabe up to the end of August to proclaim the dates before he got a reprieve up to October and finally until March next year when he intends to call for general elections.

Mugabe hopes to manipulate the ruling to fulfil his and Zanu PF’s agenda of holding early elections, while he can still sustain a rigorous and energy-sapping campaign.
Mugabe would be 89 by the time the next elections come and his health might even deteriorate further, hence fears that he could falter in the middle of the do-or-die polls.

Analysts say the last week’s court ruling allowing Mugabe to call for by-elections in March next year while subsuming general polls into that, largely abets Zanu PF’s expedient political agenda.

In an analysis titled “Does Chiweshe’s ruling measure up”?, directors of the Harare-based Research and Advocacy Unit Derek Matyszak and Tony Reeler said the High Court ruling on the matter was flawed, indicating politics and law can be in direct conflict, putting politicians and judges in an invidious position in handling such situations.

They said “the granting of the extension to this date for the three by-elections is a violation of the principle of the separation of powers established by our constitution.”

“The president is already in breach of the law in having failed to call for these by-elections and others that are over due. The excuse that this could not be done because of financial constraints has rightly been rejected by the Supreme Court as simply a delaying tactic and abuse of the court’s process – as was the first application for an extension of time within which to call for the by-elections,” Matyszak and Reeler said.

“The legislature has decided where a vacancy arises in parliament, the president must set the dates for a by-election within 14 days. It is not for the judiciary or the executive to decide the will of the legislature does not require compliance.
“It is not for the courts or the president to decide which laws can be ignored out of political expediency – though unfortunately this is not atypical of the modus operandi of both in present day Zimbabwe.”

Alex Magaisa, a law lecturer at the University of Kent in the United Kingdom, said: “The High Court cannot overturn a Supreme Court decision. The fact is there cannot be any proper legal ground for effectively reversing a higher court’s decision. The judge of the High Court should have declined to hear the matter on the basis that he does not have jurisdiction in the matter.”

However, constitutional law expert Lovemore Madhuku had a different view.

“The president went to the High Court to merely request a stay of the execution of an order granted in the Supreme Court, not to challenge or appeal against that decision so there is nothing amiss about that. The Supreme Court has no jurisdiction to stay the execution of its own order, but the High Court can do so,” Madhuku said.

Analysts say whatever Mugabe’s manoeuvres, elections should not be held without key political reforms.

In terms of the Sadc-sponsored GPA, Zimbabwe should hold free and fair elections guided by regional benchmarks, the polls roadmap and an array of reforms, including a new constitution.

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