'Constitutional court ruling not applicable'

HARARE - The Constitutional Court ruling last week that Zimbabwe must go for fresh polls by July 31 has been described by social and political commentators as not applicable and a recipe for electoral disaster.

On Friday, Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku said a nine-member court had reached a near-unanimous decision that Zimbabwe must go for fresh polls by July 31, just a month after dissolution of Parliament on June 29.

Applicant Jealousy Mbizvo Mawarire of the Centre for Election Democracy in Southern Africa, who had cited principals President Robert 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.

“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 July 31, 2013,” Chidyausiku said. Mugabe was ordered to bear the costs of Mawarire’s legal suit.

Political activist Tabani Moyo said the ruling gives a legal directive to the president to proclaim the holding of elections within the time frame of July 31.

“However, you must understand that the government has not been very good with complying with court rulings. There is a plethora of court rulings that were simply ignored and I will give it to the government and the President if they surprise me by adhering to this specific one.

“The immediate example of defiance is the holding of by-elections in the three constituencies that the MDC MPs approached the courts on. To this end there are still to be conducted,” said Moyo.
He added that this court ruling has actually caught the President flat footed given the fact that he was bluffing that he is ready for elections by June 29.

“He is not, his party is not and equally the MDCs are not ready for the same.”

He said in a way the ruling diffused the benefit of the incumbent president of setting the dates for elections when he is ready compared to opposition.

“Instead it is only a faction in his party that is ready for elections on the set date for reasons that are different to those of the president. So factionalism will definitely scale up due to the ruling but will not ready the parties for the elections,” said Moyo.

He said another issue that might lead to the ruling being defied by the authorities in government is that it did not come with financial remedies to the holding of the elections.

“Due to political contest, the parties will reach a gridlock on how to secure funds for elections.
“The summary of it is that it caught all the political parties flatfooted and that they are all not interested in the elections as per the set date,” said Moyo.

Political and social commentator Precious Shumba said the laws of the nation must be seen to be followed but the Constitution has to respected.

“While Zimbabweans are hoping for a quick election that ends the dysfunctional inclusive government, they want to first experience tangible media reforms, alignment of all electoral laws with new Constitution, a guarantee of peaceful elections, whose outcome is respected by all stakeholders.

“Such important exercises as voter registration have to be completed without doubt. This time frame is too close, and will create unnecessary tensions among political leaders and their followers,” said Shumba. He added that the way forward is for Zec to call for an indaba with all contesting political parties in the next elections and agree on the best way forward.

“Dealing with only three parties in the GNU will only result in further conflict as they do not trust each other, and are unwilling to speed up the processes that would free Zimbabwe of hostage politics where citizens live in an atmosphere of uncertainty,” he added.

Political activist and MDC official Grace Kwinjeh doesn’t think it is going to be practical in all respects.

“However, the MDC is well ahead of the game, in the coming days we finish our candidate selection process,” said Kwinjeh.

She believes having a credible playing field should not be about political players, but the nation.

“That means, allowing Zimbabweans to register to vote, a clean voter’s roll, disbanding of youth militia, non-partisan responses from security sector in the execution of their duties among many other important issues.”

Kwinjeh says there is so much at stake here, but not too late to get it right.

“Can Sadc afford another disputed election? What about the anxiety that comes with chaos and disputes?”

She says the date which would be most feasible would be around September or October.

“After reforms you need a campaign period, and for the nation to breadth and hear from all candidates.”

Media practitioner Rashweat Mukundu said there is a lot of work that need to be done to harmonise Zimbabwe’s laws with the new Constitution. “And I wonder if that would be possible within two months.  In any case there are already complaints on lack of voter registration.”

Mukundu said this ruling unfortunately works for Zanu PF and not the people of Zimbabwe nor democracy.

“Essentially Zimbabwe is being forced to go for an election without reforms and hence another disputed outcome.”

Political commentator Phillip Pasirayi said it is not possible to have credible elections in July mainly because the political playing field is not yet level. He said the following issues require attention before an election can be called.

“Firstly, the voter’s register require cleaning to address the issue of ghost voters. There is also need for Zec to ensure that the voter registration process is done properly and adequately resourced to avoid the long queues that characterised the mobile voter registration which concluded recently.

“Secondly, there is need for State authorities to agree a raft of reforms to fulfill the democratising function of the forthcoming elections. With the help of Sadc and AU, who are the guarantors of the Global Political Agreement, there is urgent need for security sector reforms to ensure that the men and women in uniform stay in the barracks.

It is an open secret that soldiers who were deployed to the districts in the 2008 elections have not yet been recalled.

“Thirdly, there is need for political players to liberalise the airwaves and ensure that the State-controlled broadcaster, ZBC does not act as if it were a Zanu PF mouthpiece. The State media should provide equal and unfettered access to all parties and candidates.”

He said the last point is that the parties are not prepared because they have not yet completed their internal processes of selecting candidates who will contest the harmonised elections.

“A July election is too ambitious a target. It is not achievable and if the politicians go ahead with organising polls in July, I am afraid to say that such elections will not be any different from the sham elections in 2008. The outcome will be contested.”

Social commentator Thomas Deve said the judgment will test the political will of the GNU principals to hold elections soon after their term of office expires.

“We have a case where we had technical challenges in the past related to by-elections and Zanu PF resisted going ahead citing lack of resources as case for countering a higher court ruling.

“We held a referendum against all odds and therefore we might have the elections as prescribed by the ruling.”

Political activist Tabani Moyo.Political activist and MDC official Grace Kwinjeh.

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