Polls by July 31, Mugabe ordered

HARARE - The Constitutional Court ruled yesterday that Zimbabwe must go for fresh polls by July 31 and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai immediately blasted the ruling, inflaming tensions over the election timetable.

In a five-minute session, Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku said the nine-member court had reached a near-unanimous decision that the southern African nation must go for fresh polls by July 31, just a month after dissolution of Parliament on June 29.

Deputy Chief Justice Luke Malaba and Justice Bharat Patel issued a dissenting judgment, averring that elections may be deferred by up to four months after June 29 and arguing on the need to safeguard the attendant separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive arms of government.

Chidyausiku, who delivered the verdict alone in the Supreme Court, said due to President Robert Mugabe’s failure to issue a proclamation fixing the date for the harmonised elections timeously, it was no longer possible to hold polls by June 29.

The Chief Justice concurred that Mugabe’s failure to fix and proclaim dates for polls was a violation of his constitutional duty to exercise his functions as a public officer to proclaim dates for elections in accordance with the law.

Applicant Jealousy Mbizvo Mawarire of the Centre for Election Democracy in Southern Africa, who had cited Principals Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, his deputy Arthur Mutambara, Welshman Ncube and Attorney General Johannes Tomana as respondents, had approached the Constitutional Court arguing that his rights as a voter had been violated by the hold-up in announcing poll dates amid bickering by the principals in the ruling coalition and that his legitimate expectation of protection of the law entrenched in Section 18(1) of the Zimbabwe Constitution had been violated.
 
After hearings of the Constitutional Court on May 24 by Chidyausiku, Malaba, and Justices Vernanda Ziyambi, Paddington Garwe, Anne-Marie Gowora, Bharat Patel, Ben Hlatshwayo, and acting constitutional court, Judge President George Chiweshe and Justice Antonia Guvava, the Chief Justice said the court ruled that the vote must be conducted no later than July 31.

“Accordingly, the first respondent be and is hereby ordered and directed to proclaim as soon as possible a date(s) for the holding of presidential election, general election and elections for members of governing bodies of local authorities in terms of Section 59(1) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, which elections should take place by no later than 31 July, 2013,” Chidyausiku said.

Mugabe was ordered to bear the costs of Mawarire’s legal suit.

Mawarire, flanked by his wife, said he was “elated” because the ruling put closure to speculation about what the import of Section 58.1 of the Constitution means and when the crucial elections were due.
“And I am happy that we managed to bring the questions to the relevant authorities who could interpret the law for us,” Mawarire told the Daily News after the ruling.

“It’s no longer a subject of conjecture in the media; it’s now clarified by the learned judges. And I think everyone now knows when the elections are supposed to be due. We had proposed July 21 actually recognising that there are certain processes that were supposed to be expedited before the elections can be conducted.

“But we are still happy with July 31 because for us, the issue was a violation of my rights as a voter due to the non-conducting of elections when they were due. Now what we are taking into consideration is that the court has made a ruling that they were no longer enough days to expedite the sort of electoral requirements as stipulated in Section 38 of the Electoral Act.”

Terrence Hussein, Mugabe’s lawyer, said they accepted the verdict of the Constitutional Court.

“We believe that the Constitutional Court has issued its ruling; we respect our Constitutional Court and we accept its decision,” Hussein told reporters.

“Certainly, we believe that the Constitutional Court acts in line with its mandate to uphold and protect the Constitution. It had to step in to safeguard that very Constitution. We believe in its ruling, that is what it has done and we respect it for that.”

He said the Constitutional Court’s decision was not contrary to their thinking and interpretation of the Constitution.

“It dovetails with it,” he said.

Advocate Lewis Uriri, Tsvangirai’s lawyer, said he was still studying the judgment when the Daily News called for comment.

But Tsvangirai’s spokesperson Luke Tamborinyoka said the Constitutional Court has no power whatsoever to set an election date.

“The Constitution is clear that the term of Parliament expires on June 29 but section 63 (4) is clear that the Executive can continue for a maximum of four months, which means an election has to be held by 30 October 2013,” Tamborinyoka said.

“One arm of government, in this case the Judiciary, cannot make a decision which should ordinarily lie in the other arm of the State, that is the executive.”

Advocate Thabani Mpofu, Ncube’s lawyer, said: “A majority judgment has been handed down by the Chief Justice in concurrence of seven judges, with two judges dissenting and it is to the effect that elections must be held by the 31st of July, 2013.”

Many Zimbabweans said they were determined to avoid a re-run of the violence four years ago and that, this time round, they had more trust in the newly reformed Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.

Social media pointedly Twitter and Facebook lit up after the decision, with many saying it was time for Zimbabwe to move on, while some vigorously opposed the verdict.

Innocent Mawire asked: “Is this a progressive or a decision inimical to the development of democracy?”

Rick McCawley twitted: “Bob can still seek an extension through the same court though. But now he has a stick.”

Ahead of the ruling, the South Africa rand had been trading in a tight range to the US dollar and traders said Zimbabwe’s woes were causing the rand to fall. - Gift Phiri, Political Editor

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