Mugabe off the hook

HARARE - Judge President Justice George Chiweshe yesterday threw President Robert Mugabe a lifeline, granting the Zanu PF strongman’s request to be excused from ordering by-elections in three constituencies.

Although it is not yet clear when elections would now be held since Chiweshe did not give reasons for his judgment, the High Court has given the 89-year-old leader some breathing space.

Legal experts told the Daily News yesterday that the judgment only refers to by-elections since the reference to the harmonised elections was dropped.

Lawyers representing three ex-legislators on Thursday argued that Mugabe’s argument that polls would be held on June 29 when Parliament expires was weak since the legislature’s lifespan could be extended by up to a year.

Mugabe, who last week missed the court’s deadline to proclaim by-elections by end of March, went to the High Court seeking an extension of a court order made last year.

He argued that since general elections are around the corner, the overdue by-elections would be synchronised with a watershed election on June 29.

However, Tsvangirai filed a court application arguing that general elections could only be held in September and not June as envisaged by Mugabe.

After pressure from Tsvangirai, Mugabe had to amend his court application to remove his argument that polls would be held by June 29.

Mugabe requested the High Court to excuse him from fulfilling his earlier application in the same courts.

The Zimbabwe leader, who has been under pressure to call for by-elections in three constituencies of Nkayi South, Bulilima East and Lupane East since last year, now has some breathing space after Chiweshe’s order.

“After reading documents filed of record and hearing counsel, it is ordered that the applicant be and is hereby excused from performance of the order of this honourable court granted on 2 October 2012,” Chiweshe said in his ruling.

Last October, Chiweshe granted an order allowing Mugabe more time to call for elections from the October 1, 2012 deadline that had been given by the same court and upheld by the Supreme Court.

In his earlier application, the veteran leader argued that the inclusive government was facing financial problems and that it could not hold by-elections in three Matabeleland constituencies hence the need for the by-elections to be subsumed into general elections.

In the main affidavit made by Justice and Legal Affairs minister Patrick Chinamasa on behalf of Mugabe last week, the explanation given for the application is that, following the “Yes” vote in the referendum, Parliament is expected to finish passing the new constitution by May 8, and that the proclamation calling for the harmonised elections will be gazetted immediately thereafter.

“In terms of the Constitution, the life of Parliament terminates on June 29, 2013, by which date harmonised elections must be held in the country,” Mugabe argued in the court papers.

This is the basis of the request for the court to allow Mugabe to delay calling the by-elections on condition that he ensures the harmonised elections are held by June 29.

Tsvangirai’s spokesperson Luke Tamborinyoka said the judgment passed by Chiweshe does not mean that elections would now be held on June 29.

“The only good news from this judgment is that those who wanted to unilaterally get a June general election date did not get it because of the timely intervention of the prime minister which forced Mugabe to amend his earlier court application,” said Tamborinyoka.

Chiweshe has washed his hands on the timing of elections saying dates for elections can only be determined by the Principals and not the courts.

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