Zimbabwe lawyers say Mugabe’s July poll call is illegal, may be forced to rescind
BY GILLIAN GOTORA,
HARARE, Zimbabwe – Legal experts in Zimbabwe said Friday that President
Robert Mugabe’s unilateral call for end of July polls is illegal and he
could be forced to overturn it at an upcoming regional meeting scheduled
Veritas, an independent legal research group, said President Robert Mugabe
has no power under the country’s constitution to call for elections without
the approval of the cabinet of government ministers.
“In issuing an election proclamation, the president is obliged to act on the
advice of cabinet. Quite obviously he did not do so. On that ground alone,
the proclamation is legally void,” the group said in a statement.
Mugabe is in a coalition government with former opposition leader Prime
Minister Morgan Tsvangirai brokered by regional leaders after violent and
disputed elections in 2008.
He has set July 31 for the national vote arguing he is obeying a May court
ruling after a private lawsuit brought against him demanded early polls.
The legal group said Mugabe can only act on his own if he wants to dissolve
parliament, but in this case he has allowed parliament to run until June 28,
when it should expire after its current five-year term.
Tsvangirai claims Mugabe needs his consent on when to hold elections under
the power-sharing deal.
Veritas said Mugabe has created a political crisis in unilaterally calling
for polls. It said once Mugabe has set an election date, amendments to
electoral laws that critics say have led to vote-rigging in the past cannot
be made as proposed in the nation’s new constitution, overwhelming accepted
in a March referendum.
Mugabe invoked special presidential powers earlier Thursday to by-pass
parliament and fast-track changes to electoral laws a few hours before his
notice announcing an election date.
But Veritas said the amendments to the electoral laws that Mugabe would have
made are superseded by the election notice rendering them invalid.
“So whatever deficiencies there may be in the amendments .the election will
have to be held in accordance with them,” it said.
Tsvangirai, Mugabe’s partner in the coalition, has repeatedly demanded
reforms in the loyalist police and military widely blamed for
state-orchestrated violence in previous elections.
Mugabe has dismissed calls for reform in the partisan security sector.
This has raised fears among rights groups of a repeat of violence that
marred the previous 2008 polls. Hundreds of Mugabe’s opponents were killed
and thousands were wounded.
In a statement, Amnesty International’s Africa director Netsanet Belay said
sweeping security laws used to arrest and intimidate people must be repealed
before the elections.
“Whatever date is decided for the election, the government’s absolute
priority must be making sure the violence that erupted during the 2008 vote
is not repeated,” Belay said.
Veritas, the legal research group, said the regional body known as SADC may
have to “exert sufficient pressure” on Mugabe to make him rescind his
decision at the Saturday meeting in Maputo, Mozambique.
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