Zanu PF MPs query July 31

HARARE - Some Zanu PF lawmakers joined their MDC counterparts yesterday in querying the feasibility of holding harmonised elections by July 31 as directed by the Constitutional Court last month.

Eric Matinenga, minister of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs was bombarded with questions in the House of Assembly by legislators from President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC, who wanted clarification on the practicability of the Constitutional Court ruling.

Jealousy Mawarire, a Zimbabwean citizen and director of the Centre for Elections and Democracy in Southern Africa, on May 2 filed an urgent court application in the Supreme Court seeking an order directing the President to proclaim elections to be held no later than June 30.  

Claiming that his rights under Section 18 of the then Constitution to have public officials obey the law had been breached by the failure to proclaim the elections, he cited Mugabe, Tsvangirai, Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, Welshman Ncube and the attorney-general as respondents.

Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku, with the concurrence of six other judges, said the constitutional provisions were ambiguous and should be read so as to avoid a temporary Parliamentary vacuum, which would be “an absurdity” – so he agreed with Mawarire and the President on this point.

But Chidyausiku then had to take account of the fact that his decision meant the electoral process was already “derailed” – because it was already too late to have an election by June 29 and at the same time comply with the timelines for elections laid down in the Electoral Act and the new Constitution – factors the Chief Justice referred to as the “exigencies of the situation”.  

So, expressing his “desire to issue an order that will help restore legality to the electoral process as quickly as possible”, the Chief Justice said he was inclined to adopt Mawarire’s alternative date but to “add six days to compensate for the period between the hearing of this appeal and the handing down of this judgment”.  

And that was the basis for the Constitutional Court’s selection of July 31 July as the election deadline and its order to the President “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 s 58(l) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, which elections should take place by no later than 31 July 2013”. 

Webber Chinyadza, MDC MP for Makoni West opened the flood of questions to Matinenga, pushing for an extension of the July 31 Constitutional Court deadline to accommodate the necessary reforms and processes.

“With the registration and inspection of the voters’ roll taking place considering that we have a 30 day registration, I don’t know whether all this will have input considering the constitutional court ruling?” Chinyadza asked.

He was immediately backed by Colin Gwiyo, MDC MP for Zengeza West, who asked Matinenga whether the court’s deadline could be met given the legal niceties that were necessary before the election.

Zanu PF MPs Fred Kanzama and Bright Matonga also sought to have Matinenga explain the implementation of the Constitutional Court ruling.

“Is the judgment final, can it not be changed?” Kanzama asked.

Matinenga explained that the court had ruled that elections should be held by July 31, but said it was not feasible to hold polls by July 31 given the work that had to be done before the polls in aligning laws to the new Constitution.

“We can refer to judgement of the Constitutional Court which is final and obliges the President to proclaim the election date by 31 July, any government and anyone associated with it is obliged to accept the ruling,” Matinenga said.

“We don’t want anyone to be in contempt of the ruling, which is impossible to carry out. There are other routes which can be followed, and the executive can approach the court seeking court indulgence for an extension of the date.

“First there is the intensive voter registration that has commenced and it ends on 9 July taking 30 days. If one factors in the Nomination Court, you can start to count the days and the nomination is 14 days and it will close on 24 July. There will be another 30 days for nomination and it will take us until 25 August which will be the polling day.

“Unfortunately this date clashes with the UNWTO dates and the court has to be advised on these issues. One has to approach the court with humility seeking indulgence for an extension order.”

Matonga, the Mhondoro-Ngezi Zanu PF MP asked: “You said that the court was not given the other information which was hidden when it delivered its judgment, can this be changed and what was that information?

Matinenga said an extension was possible given that Mugabe had previously approached the court seeking to extend the dates and days of three Bulawayo by-elections, an extension he was granted as the MDC litigants wanted the by-elections to be held 31 October last year.

He also briefed the House that Parliament expires on June 29.

Although the majority judgment has been severely criticised by a number of distinguished constitutional lawyers, and in the two dissenting judgments, Veritas, a legal and parliamentary watchdog, says there is no higher court to overrule that decision, meaning there can be no appeal. 

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