July 31 remains, says Zec

HARARE - Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) said yesterday it was forging ahead with preparations for a July 31 poll even after regional leaders directed the ruling coalition asks the Constitutional Court to extend the deadline for the vote.

Rita Makarau, Zec chairperson told editors in Harare that elections have been legally proclaimed and said the resolution of leaders of the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (Sadc) who met in Mozambique on Saturday and directed government to seek a variation of the proclaimed date will not alter their preparations.

The regional leaders sought a revision of the Con-Court ruling amid fears a rushed election would amplify the chances of a disputed result and violence.

“As Zec we are aware of the current debate surrounding the holding of elections on 31 July, 2013 following the special summit on Zimbabwe held by Sadc on Saturday 15 June, 2013,” Makarau said.

“In our meeting today, as in all other activities, we are being guided by the principle that the date of the election holds until the proclamation fixing it has been repudiated. So for Zec, 31 July remains the polling date.”

Joyce Kazembe, Makarau’s deputy, said they were ready to conduct the elections in accordance with the law.
“As I said, we are guided by the law,” Kazembe said.

“For all intents and purposes, now until there is any change elsewhere, we are confined within the 31st of July as the date of the elections. Whatever comes, I don’t know whether it’s a bonus or whatever,  but we are ready to hold elections.”

Mugabe has claimed his rivals were scared of “sure defeat” and were postponing poll dates.

But his rivals say reforms to restrictive media and security laws must be enacted for any fair election, alleging instead that it is infact Mugabe’s party that was scuttling reforms because they were scared of losing.

While Mugabe used a presidential decree to bypass Parliament and fast-track changes to election laws, Makarau said yesterday that law was now fully operational.

“That law forces us (Zec and media) into a very close relationship depending on whether you take us as friend or foe,” Makarau said.

She said the new law obliges Zec and the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe to monitor the news media during any election.

Makarau said Zec will ensure that political parties, candidates, print and broadcast media and journalists observe the law relating to media coverage on elections.

The Electoral Act, she said, sets out a Code of Conduct for all broadcasters, print media publishers during an election “and the main import of the section was to compel you to give all political parties and candidates fair and equal access to the media, both public and private.”

“That is going to be too difficult for all of you, I can already anticipate,” Makarau chuckled.
“Section 160 H provides that a broadcaster or print publisher shall not be obliged to publish any advertisement by or on behalf of any political party or candidate during an election but if it chooses to do so, it must extend the same opportunity on the same terms and conditions to all parties and candidates contesting the elections,” Makarau said.

“The public broadcaster must accord all political parties and independent candidates free access to broadcasting services.”

While regional leaders have directed that Patrick Chinamasa, the Justice and Legal Affairs minister approach the Constitutional Court to seek condonation, Mugabe’s Zanu PF has fired warning shots that that there is no need for either media or security reforms demanded by Tsvangirai and Ncube.

Chinamasa says he will comply with Sadc’s directive to approach the Con-Court for an extension to the poll deadline but claims the court could as well reject the request, forcing the country to go for fresh polls under the same disputed conditions. - Gift Phiri, Political Editor

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