Robert Mugabe fast tracks Zimbabwe election laws
Robert Mugabe has sparked outrage in Zimbabwe and warnings of a
constitutional crisis by invoking presidential powers to bypass parliament
and declare elections to be held by the end of July.
By Aislinn Laing, Peta Thornycroft in Johannesburg
It is the first time Mr Mugabe has issued a presidential decree since the
formation of a coalition government with his rival Prime Minister Morgan
Tsvangirai in 2009.
Mr Tsvangirai responded by accusing Mr Mugabe of acting “unlawfully and
unconstitutionally”, and threatening to boycott the polls.
“As prime minister I cannot and will not accept this,” he told a press
conference in Harare. “Mugabe is deliberately precipitating a constitutional
Some commentators say Mr Mugabe may be seeking to steal a march on his
opposition rivals. Mr Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change has lost
some support since forming a coalition with Mr Mugabe’s Zanu PF, and a July
31 poll will give the MDC scant time to rally more voters.
Others believe he intends to force a watering down of reforms stipulated as
part of the coalition agreement made in 2008 after that year’s violent
There are fears that if regional mediators do not intervene to force a
political solution to the impasse at a summit in Maputo this weekend,
Zimbabwe once again see electoral chaos after several years of a tentative
In a letter on State House headed notepaper, dated June 13 and obtained by
The Daily Telegraph, Mr Mugabe told Mr Tsvangirai he was bound by a ruling
of the Constitutional Court that elections be held by July 31 because of the
expiry of the coalition agreement.
“In my capacity as President of Zimbabwe, I hereby inform you I have today
issued a proclamation calling for the holding of harmonised elections, and
fixing June 28th 2013 as the date for the nomination of aspiring candidates,
and July 31st as the date for holding the polls,” he said.
Mr Mugabe added that because of the Constitutional Court ruling – which has
been challenged by opposition parties as the court was created by the new
constitution and, they say, does not yet have legal weight – it was
“inexpedient” to wait for reforms.
“Accordingly, I found it appropriate to invoke the Presidential Powers Act
in order to comply with the order given by the Constitutional Court,” he
Speaking at a hastily-convened press conference in Harare, Prime Minister
Tsvangirai said he would not accept a situation in which Zimbabweans were
“railroaded” into “another illegitimate election”.
He said that under the coalition agreement, Mr Mugabe had no right to make
unilateral decisions, and was not allowing enough time for a 30-day voter
He also reiterated his call for reforms agreed under the coalition deal
which stipulates that broadcast media be accessible to all political
parties, and that the traditionally pro-Zanu PF police and army subscribe to
a code of conduct.
“I appeal to fellow Zimbabwean to remain calm but vigilant in the face of
this provocation and illegality. History has taught us that evil never
triumphs and the way of truth will always triumph,” he said.
Welshman Ncube, the leader of the MDC-M political party which makes up the
third member of the coalition, said negotiations in cabinet this week had
suggested that Mr Mugabe would comply with due process.
It followed the postponement of a Southern African Development Community due
last weekend after Mr Mugabe said he was too busy to attend. Zimbabwe has
previously asked South Africa, the SADC-nominated lead negotiator on
Zimbabwe, for money to hold the polls.
“Now we know the postponement of the summit by Mugabe was deliberate so they
could go to the summit with a fait accompli,” he told The Daily Telegraph.
“What they have done is unlawful. What the Supreme Court said about the
election date was unlawful. But there is no chance on going back on this as
there is collusion between the court and the politicians.
“I don’t know if SADC will have the courage to stand up to Mugabe and
withhold money for elections. I doubt it. We have been treated with
Lindiwe Zulu, President Jacob Zuma’s lead negotiator on Zimbabwe, said they
were studying Mr Mugabe’s declaration.
“SADC is concerned that there should be an election that is nowhere near
what happened in 2008,” she told The Daily Telegraph. “At the end of the
day, there are three parties in the coalition and SADC wants to see those
three parties being in agreement rather than unilateral decisions.”
Piers Pigou, the International Crisis Group’s Zimbabwe analyst, said Mr
Mugabe was hiding behind the “fig leaf” of the court.
“We see this as part of the brinkmanship that’s been ongoing throughout in
terms of resisting reforms and pushing agendas,” he said.
“There is a real opportunity in Zimbabwe to build confidence in the
integrity of electoral institutions and processes, a real chance to do this
“Rushing into elections will fundamentally undermine those opportunities.
The ICG doesn’t believe that the conditions in Zimbabwe are appropriate for
a free and fair election at this juncture, let alone a transparent, peaceful
and credible election.”
Mr Mugabe’s spokesman could not be reached for comment.