ZIMBABWE’S highest court has ordered president Robert Mugabe hold elections before 31 July in a ruling widely seen as a victory for the 89-year-old leader and angrily rejected by his rival Morgan Tsvangirai.
The ruling follows an application by a man from the capital Harare who wanted to force the longtime president to set a date for the polls.
A Zimbabwean rights activist Jealousy Mawarire, who writes for the pro-Mugabe Herald newspaper, filed the case with the Constitutional Court challenging Mr Mugabe to set dates for the presidential and parliamentary election by June 29.
He argued the executive risked violating the constitution and the date given was in line with Mr Mugabe’s own wishes.
The judge said that while it was impossible to hold elections by June 29, Mawarire’s rights as a voter had been violated by Mr Mugabe’s failure to set an election date so far.
“The first respondent [Mugabe] is hereby ordered and directed to proclaim as soon as possible a date for the holding of presidential elections… in terms of section 58 (1) of the constitution of Zimbabwe, which elections should take place no later than 31 July 2013,” said chief justice Godfrey Chidyausiku, of the constitutional court.
Prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had argued that Mr Mugabe should have until October to hold the elections and that the opposition leader should have a say in the date.
Mr Tsvangirai will stand against Mr Mugabe for the third time in the polls.
His party insists that media and security reforms agreed to under Zimbabwe’s four-year coalition deal must be implemented before elections are held, a demand that is being backed by the regional inter-government organisation Southern African Development Community (SADC).
But Mr Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party is opposed to these reforms and yesterday’s ruling makes it very unlikely they can be carried out.
“The constitutional court has overstepped its mandate. Setting an election date is an executive issue,” a spokesman for Mr Tsvangirai, said.
The spokesman claimed that Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai had been holding discussions to settle on an election date “and there is no indication that process [has] failed”.
Lawyers for the MDC leader said they were “surprised” that the ruling was issued in terms of Zimbabwe’s old constitution when Mr Mugabe signed into law a new constitution only two weeks ago. The charter took four years to craft and the section on elections was supposed to come into force immediately.