Zimbabwe's Constitutional Court has ordered President Robert Mugabe to hold crucial national elections before the end of July. The judge said Mugabe violated his duties by failing to announce a date.
The elections are meant to end an uneasy power-sharing government between Mugabe and long-time political rival Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe's prime minister. Friday's ruling came just two weeks after Mugabe signed Zimbabwe's new constitution into law, which allows for a range of reforms, including limiting presidents to two five-year terms and abolishing the role of prime minister.
The new constitution also paves the way for general elections, which could see the end of Mugabe's 33-year rule. Because the new presidential term limit does not apply retroactively, the long-time president may seek re-election.
Mugabe in the wrong
Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku ruled that Mugabe was mistaken to not have announced an election date linked to the end of the tenure of the current parliament, on June 29. The law allows elections to be held up to four months after the dissolution of parliament.
Chidyausiku ordered Mugabe on Friday to "proclaim as soon as possible a date for the holding of presidential elections, general elections and elections of members of governing bodies of local authorities."
The case was brought by a Zimbabwean rights activist and journalist, Jealousy Mawarire (pictured above, speaking to reporters), who argued delaying elections by four months after the dissolving of parliament went against the tenets of democracy, and could lead to a situation in which Mugabe ran the country single-handedly. He said the dissolution of parliament should be immediately followed by elections.
However Tsvangirai has previously said the elections should be delayed, in order to allow for the opening up of broadcast media, register new voters, and reform the military so it stays out of politics. He says reforms would ensure a free and fair vote, the first since disputed elections in 2008 which led to the power-sharing arrangement.
Chidyausiku ruled that while it was now legally impossible to hold elections by June 29, Mugabe had violated Mawarire's rights as a voter by not proclaiming an election date so far.
Who will foot the bill?
There is also a question as to whether the country can pay for the elections. Zimbabwe's finance minister, Tendai Biti, a member of Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change party (MDC), said the country is struggling to come up with the $132 million (101.7 million euros) needed to conduct the polls.
The government has rejected money offered by the United Nations in exchange for allowing international observers to monitor the voting in 2013.
Mugabe, 89, assumed power in 1980 after the end of British colonial rule. Despite praising his earlier years leading Zimbabwe, the international community levied sanctions on the African country's government over the last decade, citing human rights abuses and corruption.
jr/mz (AP, Reuters, AFP)