Polls D-Day for Mugabe

HARARE - Judge President George Chiweshe is today expected to rule on the urgency of an application by President Robert Mugabe that the inclusive government has no money to run by-elections and that a general election was within six months anyway.

Zimbabwe’s highest court, the Supreme Court, in August gave Mugabe an October 1 deadline to proclaim by-election dates for 26 vacant parliamentary seats.

But Mugabe, through his proxy, Justice and Legal Affairs minister Patrick Chinamasa, filed an urgent petition last Wednesday seeking a six-month extension ostensibly because government cannot fund by-elections right now.

“The applicant’s desire is to hold harmonised elections in the last week of March 2013 and a proclamation to this effect will be made at the appropriate time,” the President said in the application deposed by Chinamasa.

The appeal said Zimbabwe will need a hefty $270 million to bankroll the by-elections, a forthcoming referendum scheduled for November and the general election which he wants in March.

On Friday, the litigants - former MDC legislators Abednico Bhebhe, Njabuliso Mguni and Norman Mpofu - said in an answering affidavit that Chinamasa had no right to depose an affidavit on behalf of Mugabe without presenting proof that he had been granted that authority.

The three former legislators, who are being represented by top Harare lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, raised preliminary issues, including that the matter was not urgent.

Mtetwa is challenging the certificate of urgency granted to Chinamasa by the Attorney-General’s office, which is representing the 88-year-old strongman. Mtetwa referred to another Mugabe appeal lodged with the Supreme Court ahead of the September 1 deadline.

Mtetwa said the six-month extension, which Mugabe was seeking must be turned down because the matter was now turning urgent on a monthly basis, she sarcastically suggested.

The lawyer said that Chinamasa could not possibly raise the financial constraints issue because he was not Tendai Biti, the country’s Finance minister and the Justice minister’s application does not have Biti’s supporting affidavit.

Therefore, the former could not vouch for the president and that the Harare administration was cash-strapped.

As the judge president is today expected to hand down on the Mugabe poll plan, Chiweshe has heard all the arguments and the next step is to rule on whether the six-month extension should be granted.

With Zimbabwe’s main political players - Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai - seemingly agreeable that elections cannot be held this year, developments on the ground also indicate that it is no longer their singular call anymore.

As things stand, it seems that winners and losers of this contest are going to be determined by the natural consequence of the Zimbabwean legal system.

For instance, the dismissal of the Zanu PF leader’s urgent appeal looks important enough to fundamentally change lives and legacies.

In the meantime, the High Court ruling is one of the most or highly anticipated decisions in years to determine whether there was an unconstitutional exercise of executive authority by Mugabe’s proxy and arguments around representative democracy.

Analysts say the stakes cannot be overstated and what Chiweshe will decide has an immediate, and long-term impact on every Zimbabwean - not only in the field of politics but in vast, untold areas of “business.”

By-elections in 26 constituencies could destabilise the inclusive government, more so now before crucial political, security and electoral reforms, election watchdog, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network has said.

After months of bare-knuckled fights in the inclusive government over a 2012 poll demand by the veteran leader, Mugabe appears to have made a volte face and is now pushing for a 2013 poll timetable. - Gift Phiri

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