Election dates case: Ruling expected today

HARARE - The High Court is today expected to put finality to the poll date row between President Robert Mugabe and his coalition partner Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

Mugabe wants polls by June 29 while Tsvangirai wants polls in September after fundamental political reforms.

A High Court case pitting Mugabe and there ex-legislators could indirectly have a bearing on the timing of the watershed polls.

The 89-year-old strongman through his lawyers indicated yesterday that he wanted outstanding by-elections to be synchronised with general elections on June 29 after the expiry of the term of the current Parliament.

Legal experts and Mugabe’s ruling partners in a coalition government formed in 2009 have already ruled out an election in June saying it is constitutionally improbable and politically impossible to have polls by June 29.

However, lawyers representing Mugabe yesterday stuck to their guns saying the outstanding by-elections which are not only restricted to the three constituencies before the courts — would be held on June 29 in compliance with the law.

Deputy Attorney-General Prince Machaya, Mugabe’s lawyer, said there is no need to have the by-elections now since polls will be held in June.

He said a timeframe of at least 71 days is required to adequately prepare for the mini-polls.

“Parliament expires on June 29 and that being the case we would like to ask the court to grant us the relief that we sought,” said Machaya.

Mugabe says the lifespan of the current Parliament expires on June 29, the date he was sworn in as president.

Justice and Legal Affairs minister Patrick Chinamasa has already indicated that the country should have polls in June because it is “legally impossible to run a government without Parliament.”

In the on-going court case, Mugabe is fighting a court ruling granted in 2011 which ordered him to set by-election dates for Nkayi South, Bulilima East and Lupane East constituencies following an application by former MPs Abednico Bhebhe, Njabuliso Mguni and Norman Mpofu.

The three ex-legislators are represented by Thabani Mpofu who argued that Mugabe had no right to approach the High Court before he had complied with the same court’s order to hold by-elections in accordance with the law.

Mpofu said since the case has already been heard at the High Court, it can only be adjudicated by a superior court and said Mugabe is now running in circles.

 “The president is bound by the law to set a legal basis and it is no answer that harmonised elections are imminent therefore the law should not be followed.”

While Mugabe is arguing that by-elections be deferred, Mpofu said there is a possibility to take the president to court on contempt of court charges.

“Parliament may be dissolved on June 29 but the law does not say it will be dissolved on that date.
“There is a constitutional possibility that the lifespan of this Parliament maybe extended for up to a year if there is a war or a case of emergency,” said Mpofu.

“Why is the applicant running? The basis of his initial court application was that he wanted the court to decide dates for polls.

“Why is applicant not prepared to comply with the order obtained by the respondents?” asked Mpofu.

While Mugabe is basing his arguments on legal benchmarks, Tsvangirai says the next polls would be determined not only by legal frameworks but also by the implementation of political reforms that would ensure a free and fair poll.

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