HARARE – After chalking up an “election victory” on May 31, President Robert Mugabe faces a fresh headache after a Harare man approached the Constitutional Court to set aside the 10-day-old judgment compelling the Zanu PF leader to hold elections by July 31.
Although the identity of the applicant remained unclear at the time of going to print last night, government sources said lawyers from Dube, Manikai and Hwacha Legal Practitioners had filed a challenge late afternoon yesterday on behalf of a man claiming his “rights would be violated if elections are held before July 31”.
This comes as the Centre for Elections and Democracy in Southern Africa (CEDSA) director, and founding trustee Jealousy Mawarire had won a Supreme Court case ordering Mugabe to call for elections by end-July, and in the aftermath of the conclusion of Zimbabwe’s constitutional reform process.
And ever since the octogenarian leader signed the new constitution into law on May 22, the country’s highest court has seen a flurry of activity with at least four high-profile cases related to this key election running there.
With parliament expiring on June 29 – the day when Mugabe was sworn into office in 2008 – the Constitutional Court gave the president at least 30 days to organise elections on the grounds that government cannot continue to function without a duly elected house, a sharply contested view and position by numerous legal experts and also deputy Chief Justice Luke Malaba’s dissenting judgement.
About 10 days ago, seven of the nine judges ruled in favour of Mawarire, who had taken Mugabe to court challenging the president to set dates for presidential and parliamentary elections by June 29, arguing that the executive risked violating the constitution.
Thus there is no end in sight to the controversy surrounding poll dates as the “citizen” who also cites Mugabe in his application says the time available until July 31 is too short to allow him to exercise his rights.
Last month a rights activist living with HIV filed a test case in the newly constituted court to highlight the challenges and ill treatment facing people living with the virus in the country’s prisons.
Two weeks ago businessman Mutumwa Mawere filed an urgent application calling for the court to confirm the provisions regarding the issue of dual citizenship and to stop the voter registration exercise, which started yesterday.
Meanwhile, Mugabe is likely to face a potentially explosive Cabinet meeting today as his coalition government partners tackle the contentious election date issue and amendments to the electoral law.
The development also comes as the octogenarian leader has somewhat managed to “dodge” a Southern African Development Community meeting in Maputo to discuss several issues around this year’s much-anticipated election.
While Mugabe’s spin doctors have tried to project a view that the issues were fait accompli, some Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) officials yesterday dismissed Mugabe’s spin doctors claims that today’s cabinet meeting will be a mere formality to pass the Electoral Law amendments.
Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba was on Sunday quoted in the state controlled media saying that “the amendments (to the Electoral Act) have already been negotiated and agreed by the three GPA parties and digested by the Cabinet committee which draws its membership from the political parties. Once proposals pass this stage, it is almost a foregone conclusion that cabinet will embrace them.”
However, officials from the MDC formations in government say matters will come to a head today and even if cabinet approves the amendments they will have to go through a hung Parliament.
“People from the legal committee are not satisfied and some didn’t even attend the meeting. So it is wrong to say it will be a rubber stamping exercise they will have to go to Parliament,” said a senior official from the Industry and Commerce minister led MDC.
In a Facebook post, Jameson Timba, minister in the Prime Minister’s office wrote that Zanu PF has to agree to an electoral roadmap to pave way for free and fair elections otherwise the MDC will use its numbers in Parliament to force Zanu PF to climb-down.
“We will negotiate with Zanu PF to make them see sense and the need to do things properly in terms of realigning all laws (not only the Electoral Act) and ensure a credible voter registration exercise and (voters’) roll and the attendant reforms before holding an election.
“If they refuse to see sense we will see them in Parliament, without us they cannot pass any law including the electoral amendments and as such cannot have a lawful election in terms of the new constitution.
Democracy means rule by the majority for the majority and we happen to be the majority representatives,” said Timba who is also an MDC lawmaker.
The Electoral Act for instance, which in section 66 of the current electoral law prescribes the winner-take-all or first-past-the-post system for elected MPs, will have to specifically provide for the election of representatives of persons with disabilities.