Election Ruling Could Spark Political Crisis
Friday’s Zimbabwe Constitutional Court ruling ordering president Robert Mugabe to call presidential and parliamentary elections by the end of July could spark a political crisis that spills over into the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Seven of the nine judges ruled in favour of a private application requiring Mr Mugabe to call elections immediately after the dissolution of parliament whose term expires on June 29.
Former Journalist Jealous Mawarire and his wife Lorrain arrives at the court today
The ruling is a victory for Mr Mugabe who has called for the polls to be held even earlier (on June 29) while his coalition partner in Zimbabwe’s hopelessly split coalition government, prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai says elections should be delayed until September.
The judgment comes just a week ahead of a SADC summit next weekend to assess Zimbabwe’s readiness for elections and decide whether the electoral and media reforms, set out in the September 2008 political agreement guaranteed by SADC, have been fully implemented.
Veritas, an independent legal research group said the July election date was impractical, noting that the constitution provides for the executive and government ministries to continue operating without a sitting parliament for up to four months after dissolution – which means until October 29.
But for reasons that are unclear, Mr Mugabe’s Zanu-PF is a hurry to go to the polls, seemingly confident that it has the momentum to defeat Mr Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change.
Rejecting the court ruling, the prime minister said: “The Supreme Court has no power whatsoever to set an election date”, adding that the Principals to the September 2008 agreement had a consultative mechanism whereby the election date would be agreed by the three political parties in the coalition government. “This is what SADC, the African Union and the people of Zimbabwe expect, not a date set under the cover of the judiciary without a mechanism to ensure that issues of the election environment and reforms are addressed” Mr Tsvangirai said.
Two interrelated issues, both of which will affect the timing of the poll, are likely to next weekend’s SADC summit. Some SADC leaders will back the MDC in demanding that electoral reforms are in place before elections, while Zimbabwe’s request for $130 million to finance the elections is unlikely to gain traction in the absence of these electoral and media reforms.
President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, who is SADC’s point-man in the Zimbabwe dispute will use what authority he has to get the three Zimbabwe political parties to accept a compromise date in September or October.
While President Mugabe’s hand has been strengthened by the Constitutional Court ruling, unless he is backed by SADC, he is likely to seek an election-date compromise with the two MDC factions rather than risk going it alone – a move that might provoke an opposition boycott, a very low voter turnout and a refusal by African and foreign governments to recognise the result.
Mr Tsvangirai’s MDC is keenly aware that election uncertainty is damaging the economy. Finance minister Tendai Biti – an MDC minister – this week blamed political uncertainty for a 3 per cent decline in GDP in the first quarter of 2013. All of which points to elections in the latter half of 2013 – most likely in September or October.