PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe yesterday triggered a potentially explosive political battle with his coalition government partners after proclaiming dates for general elections as July 31 following the controversial use of the draconian Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act to truncate the electoral process by legally dubious means.
Report by Brian Chitemba
His confrontational manoeuvres and resultant political storm came on the eve of the crucial Sadc summit in Maputo, Mozambique, to discuss Zimbabwe’s political and security situation, particularly to review the Global Political Agreement (GPA), attendant roadmap and poll funding ahead of the elections.
Mugabe wrote to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Industry and Commerce minister Welshman Ncube, unilaterally informing them elections will be held on July 31, while saying he was implementing a recent controversial Constitutional Court (Concourt) order.
“In my capacity as President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, I hereby inform you that I have today issued a proclamation calling for the holding of harmonised elections and fixing June 28 2013 as the date for the nomination of aspiring candidates and July 31 2013 as the date for holding polls,” Mugabe said in his letter.
“This proclamation has been preceded by the enactment of the Electoral Amendments that were approved by cabinet on 11 June 2013.
Given the need to comply with the deadline for elections as imposed upon me by the Constitutional Court judgment, it became inexpedient to await the passage through parliament of the electoral (Act).”
He also said in the event that no one wins the first round of the presidential election, the run-off will be held on September 11 after the United Nations World Tourism Organisation conference in Victoria Falls from August 24 to 29.
In a move which disregarded Tuesday’s collective cabinet decisions, Mugabe used the authoritarian powers of decree to by-pass a parliamentary process which was supposed to amend the Electoral Act to include issues related to the registration of voters, a code of conduct for political parties, candidates participating in elections, a system of proportional representation for senators and seats reserved for women, disabled senators and members of the newly introduced provincial councils.
Tsvangirai immediately rejected Mugabe’s unilateral proclamation of elections dates, saying it was “a clear, flagrant and fraudulent breach of our constitution”. He vowed to fight Mugabe’s bid to railroad the nation into elections before full implementation of critical reforms as outlined in the GPA.
Mugabe’s manoeuvres are also facing stiff resistance from other political parties and the issue is expected to dominate the Sadc summit tomorrow.
Mugabe gazetted Statutory Instrument 85 of 2013 amending the Electoral Act in a situation he said was necessitated by urgency and public interest. He said he used the controversial Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act to comply with the Concourt judgment of May 31 which ordered him to proclaim dates for elections by not later than July 31.
Law experts said the use of Presidential Powers to amend electoral laws was unconstitutional since Section 157(1) states that only an Act of Parliament can be used.
Mugabe used his contentious powers to unilaterally amend the Electoral Act and include a provision which extends the voter registration exercise by 12 days after nomination day.
Initially, Section 26A of the Electoral Act 2:13 provided that voter registration was supposed to be finalised 24 hours before the nomination court sits after which the constitution required that 44 days elapse between the proclamation of election dates and polling day.
Mugabe used his sweeping powers to repeal Section 26A and insert a new provision for the closure of the voters’ roll 12 days after nomination day in a bid to fit the processes within the July 31 deadline.
“No person shall be registered as a voter for the purposes of voting at any Presidential election or election of members of the National Assembly or councillors unless he or she lodges a claim for registration or transfer of registration under Section 24 or 25 no later than 12 days after the nomination day fixed in terms of a proclamation referred to in Section 28 or a notice referred to in Section 39, as the case may be, in relation to that election,” the amendment says.
The MDC formations expected the elections would be held by August 25 given that the mandatory mobile voter registration which began on June 10 was supposed to end on July 9, after which the proclamation of elections dates would have been on July 10. The constitution provides that the nomination court can only sit between 14 and 21 days of the proclamation, meaning the date that was expected for the court to sit was July 24, not June 28 as Mugabe arbitrarily set.
As the new constitution provides for a minimum 30-day period of campaigning to a maximum of 42 days before polling day, it meant after the July 24 nomination, elections could only have been held at least on August 25.
But Mugabe used the Concourt ruling and his powers of decree to stampede the nation into elections, something he had failed to achieve since 2011.