Mugabe's polls wish granted

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe’s request to hold by-elections in three Matabeleland constituencies by March 31, 2013 was yesterday granted by High Court judge George Chiweshe, a move which could push the 88-year-old leader to have harmonised polls at the same time.

Mugabe who was initially hauled to the High Court by three former MDC legislators Abednico Bhebhe, Njabuliso Mguni and Norman Mpofu in 2010 after their parliamentary membership was terminated following their suspension and subsequent expulsion from Welshman Ncube’s MDC party last month, received a lifeline from Chiweshe who extended an election deadline set by the Supreme Court to October 1.

However, last week Mugabe through Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa, said he would prefer to harmonise the outstanding by-elections with general elections as he argued the government was bankrupt.

Yesterday, Chiweshe granted Mugabe’s wish and said in a brief judgement: “It is ordered that the period within which to comply with the order (to hold by-elections) be and is hereby further extended to the 31st day of March 2013.”

He said reasons for the ruling will follow.

Mugabe’s court application for an extension partly read: “The applicant’s desire is to hold the harmonised elections in the last week of March, 2013 and a proclamation to this effect will be made at the appropriate time.”

However, civic society groups, political parties and observers have said it is impossible to hold elections in March next year as the situation prevailing on the ground does not allow that.

The constitutional process has still not been completed while Mugabe can only call for elections in agreement with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai who has said harmonised elections are only possible in June.

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) said yesterday the ability to stage harmonised polls and a referendum within the next six months will hinge on the disbursement of cash from central government.

Mugabe is facing fierce opposition to his plans to hold polls by end of March 2013 from his coalition partners, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, his deputy Arthur Mutambara and Welshman Ncube who want polls to be held at the earliest by June 2013 when the current term of Parliament expires.

Speaking at a press conference on Electoral Conflict Management yesterday, Letitia Kazembe, Zec vice chairperson said although the body that was formed in 2009 to run polls has been carrying out capacity building programmes for its staff, it would need time to train seconded staff as well as security personnel.

Kazembe said Zec would need six weeks to plan for a referendum as well as elections when the dates are proclaimed.

Under the current constitution, Mugabe has to proclaim the date for elections in consultation with his coalition partners.

The cash-strapped coalition government has already moved the dates for a referendum that was initially scheduled for October to November because of cash constraints.

“The ability of the commission to conduct elections depends on various factors. One crucial factor is the provision of adequate financial resources to conduct elections and all attended processes that precede the actual process,” Kazembe said.

“Zec is the independent body but the state, through the treasury, bears the responsibility for the provision of all the election-related financial needs of the commission. Without adequate financial resources, it is not possible for Zec to fulfil its constitutional mandate.”

With assistance from the UNDP, Zec has been able to acquire 15 vehicles, 100 personal computers, 125 laptops and 11 PA systems among other things that are essential in conducting elections.

However, the electoral body will only be able to install the Information and Communication Technology Centre (ICT) by end of January.

Zec, according to Kazembe, would need funds for “logistical arrangements, inspection of the voters’ roll, acquisition of electoral material, acquisition of indelible ink, staff training in polling activities, delimitation, voter education and the process of conducting elections.”

Zec has to realign with the Electoral Amendment Act which is now operational and defines the way elections are held.

“This Act will definitely have an impact on Zec’s operations,” she said.

“For example, it requires Zec to set up a system of special voting for all Zec officials, both permanent and seconded staff, and members of the uniformed forces who will be on duty during the ordinary elections.”

To hold elections and a referendum, Zec would require a whopping $300million but government coffers are presently dry, according to Finance Minister Tendai Biti.

Notwithstanding the financial constraints, Zec has already started preparations for elections and yesterday announced the formation of a select management committee that comprises officials from Zec, the Zimbabwe Public Police (ZRP), Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC), the Organ for National Healing and Reconciliation and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission.

Theophilus Gambe, chairperson of the select committee, said the committee would share information on conflict management techniques and also act as an early warning institution on potential conflict areas.

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