Zimbabweans face bloodbath at the polls

Robert Mugabe inspects the guard of honour during a police pass-out  parade in Harare yesterday. Picture: AP
Robert Mugabe inspects the guard of honour during a police pass-out parade in Harare yesterday. Picture: AP
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PRIME Minister Morgan Tsvangirai warned yesterday that Zimbabwe was headed for another violent election after Robert Mugabe used his presidential powers to bypass parliament and declare elections would be held on 31 July.

The Zimbabwe opposition leader reacted furiously to a letter from Mr Mugabe saying he had “found it necessary” to use his presidential powers to pass new electoral laws and set a poll date – without first consulting Mr Tsvangirai.

Mr Tsvangirai accused Mr Mugabe, 89, of acting “unlawfully and unconstitutionally” and hinted at a boycott.

“I will not accept a situation where Zimbabweans will yet again be railroaded and frog-marched into another illegitimate and violent election,” the Movement for Democratic Change leader said.

More than 200 MDC supporters were killed after Mr Mugabe lost the first round of polling to Mr Tsvangirai during elections in March 2008. Under the terms of a power-sharing deal signed later that year, the president was supposed to consult Mr Tsvangirai before setting a date.

Analysts say the former guerrilla fighter wants an early election to avoid having to reform the police and the army and to capitalise on a dip in Mr Tsvangirai’s popularity, due partly to reports last year of his affairs.

The president’s inner circle is also worried about Mr Mugabe’s prostate cancer, which doctors have warned will likely kill him by the end of 2013. Official ZBC radio said any election run-off would be held six weeks later on 11 September – opening wide the possibility of another violent backlash to a first-round Mugabe defeat.

In the letter, addressed to “Honourable Prime Minister” in Mugabe’s curly handwriting, the president says he has to abide by a ruling from Zimbabwe’s highest court ordering elections to be held by 31 July.

But legal experts and the opposition say that holding the polls then will infringe upon several sections of the constitution, including the rights of would-be voters to register and check the voters’ roll.

The letter reads: “In my capacity as president of the republic of Zimbabwe I hereby inform you that I have today issued a proclamation calling for the holding of harmonised elections and fixing 31 July as the date for the holding of the polls.”

Mr Mugabe said that given the short timeframe, it was “inexpedient” to wait for reforms.

Mr Tsvangirai’s lawyers filed a court application against the date in the constitutional court yesterday, but with little hope of success: the same court set the 31 July deadline. “It’s a ploy. They put the court up to [the ruling] and now Mugabe’s going to go through with it,” said MDC policy advisor Eddie Cross.

Mr Tsvangirai is also seeking Southern African Development Community intervention – though commentators are divided on how tough a line the bloc is willing to take on Mugabe, feted by many in the region as a fiery opponent of the West.

News of the poll date prompted outrage on local social media. Zimbabwean journalist Nqaba Matshazi tweeted: “Mugabe used the presidential powers to choose a date. There’s one way for Zimbabwe now: downhill.”