Robert Mugabe has ordered his supporters to inflict a “devastating” defeat on the opposition after Zimbabwe’s highest court refused to postpone this month’s elections.
All nine judges of the Constitutional Court turned down an application for a delay to the 31 July poll filed on the orders of the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional organisation late on Thursday.
Mr Mugabe’s main rival for the presidency, prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai, had backed the appeal arguing that more time was needed for reforms to the police and army and for voters to register.
Mr Mugabe said: “This should give us a real impetus, a real push, because elsewhere just now if they have got the [court] decision, there is dismay and downheartedness and disappointment. So let’s build on that sorrow and make it even sorrow of a third, fourth, fifth, tenth degree by a defeat that is as devastating as the election we are going to have.”
The 89-year-old told his central committee in comments reported by the official Herald newspaper: “You can postpone your sleep for a while and let it be all work and no play.”
Analysts said the ruling – which was immediately dismissed as biased by the opposition – has hugely strengthened Mr Mugabe ahead of the polls.
Launching his party’s manifesto yesterday in front of cheering crowds in a Harare township, the president threatened to withdraw Zimbabwe from the regional bloc “if SADC decides to do stupid things”.
SADC forced Mr Mugabe into a power-sharing agreement with Mr Tsvangirai, a former trade unionist, after violence-wracked polls in 2008, which left 200 opposition supporters dead.
Last month neighbouring South Africa led calls for the election to be delayed for at least a month.
Mr Mugabe told his supporters they were facing a “do-or-die struggle”. He said: “Think of 2008 and say never again. Never again shall we allow those who work with our enemies, the British imperialists and their allies, taste leadership of this nation.”
Lawyers attending Thursday’s court session said the judges took just 15 minutes to deliberate – despite being presented with four tomes of legal arguments.
Several judges have been given farms by the president. Mr Mugabe’s deputy Joyce Mujuru said yesterday: “This is the true rule of law.”
Recent opinion polls have put Mr Mugabe slightly ahead of Mr Tsvangirai – and education minister David Coltart has warned that Zanu-PF hardliners plan to stuff ballot boxes to ensure their leader’s victory.
The president’s health is failing – he made another trip to Singapore for medical treatment last week – but he insists Zimbabwe needs him. Commentators said he wants the vote deemed “credible” rather than free and fair.