Early 2018 election possible: Experts

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe could exploit a lacuna in the law to proclaim an early general election next year, legal experts have said.

The next elections are constitutionally scheduled to take place between July 23 and August 21, 2018.

But legal experts said Mugabe still has a constitutional leeway which he can exploit if he wants an early poll.

Zanu PF administration secretary Ignatius Chombo has hinted at a February or March 2018 election date, earlier than Zimbabwe’s traditional July timing for presidential votes, which also means a shorter campaign that would be less demanding on Mugabe’s health.

This comes as Mugabe is going around the country, gearing his party for elections.

Legal and parliamentary experts yesterday said nothing would stop Mugabe from proclaiming an early election if he wants to.

They cited section 144 of the Constitution which says a general election can result from dissolution of Parliament, which he can exploit should he suppose an early election to be politically expedient

There are three scenarios under which Parliament can be dissolved, if the Senate and the National Assembly, sitting separately, by the votes of at least two-thirds of the total membership of each House, have passed resolutions to dissolve; if the National Assembly has unreasonably refused to pass an Appropriation Bill (a budget bill).

Zanu PF boasts of an overwhelming two-thirds majority in the National Assembly and Senate required to vote for dissolution of Parliament.

“The current term (of the president and Parliament), has to run to its end but if Parliament passes a resolution in favour of dissolution, there can be an early election although he would be acting in bad faith.

“The ruling party can whip its MPs into voting in favour of the dissolution of Parliament,” said constitutional law expert, Greg Lennington.

University of Zimbabwe law lecturer Lovemore Madhuku said the Constitution makes it very easy for Mugabe to cause an early election.

“If a party has a two thirds parliamentary majority, it becomes very easy for it to influence an early election if it thinks that can serve its interests. It’s done through a provision of section 144 of the Constitution which allows for the dissolution of Parliament, which then necessitates an early election.

“That’s what Zanu PF can do; it has the required two thirds majority. It’s a very stupid provision,” said Madhuku, whose National Constitutional Assembly outfit campaigned against the national charter ahead of a 2013 referendum, arguing it does not sufficiently whittle down the power of the president.

Legal and parliamentary watchdog Veritas said: “Although our Constitution did its best to prevent this (proclamation of an early election) from being the usual scenario, it had to make provision for it to prevent a possible deadlock in government.

“Although there was difficulty getting the required two-thirds majority for the Constitution Amendment Bill No. 1, there would probably not be the same difficulty over a vote for early dissolution as Zanu PF parliamentarians would be likely to think an early election would increase their chances of being returned to Parliament.

“If the rationale for an early election is for an already prepared Zanu PF to make things as difficult as possible for all other parties and or coalitions, a fast-as-possible election programme would make sense, hence the suggestions of an early March election.

“The earliest day in March 2018 for elections would be Saturday 3rd March. This would mean that the dissolution vote in Parliament would have to be no earlier than 4th December 2017, because there must not be more than 90 days between the vote and the election.

“And the election proclamation following the vote could not be later than 18th January 2018 because under section 157(3) of the Constitution, there must not be less than 44 days between the proclamation of an election and polling day,” Veritas said in its Election Watch report released last week.

The early election would, however, be problematic in the sense that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) might be caught unawares.

Zec has said it would biometrically register next year’s voters, which means it intends to come up with a whole new voters’ roll.

Yet with time fast running out, the voter registration exercise is yet to take place.

Veritas noted that Zec would be forced to make alternative arrangements in case an early election is called “and must not leave a last-minute situation in which we neither have a new biometric voters roll nor an updated and cleaned up existing voters’ roll open to inspection.”

Post a comment

Readers are kindly requested to refrain from using abusive, vulgar, racist, tribalistic, sexist, discriminatory and hurtful language when posting their comments on the Daily News website.
Those who transgress this civilised etiquette will be barred from contributing to our online discussions.
- Editor

Your email address will not be shared.