For the past four years, coalition partners President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai have spent more time disagreeing with one another than working together constructively. On Thursday (13.06.2013) Mugabe issued a presidential decree saying he would end Zimbabwe's power-sharing government and that elections would be held on 31 July, 2013. Tsvangirai was informed by letter. His immediate response was to say he would urge other African leaders to force Mugabe to reverse his decision.
Addressing a press conference in the capital Harare, Tsvangirai accused President Mugabe of acting "unlawfully and unconstitutionally and deliberately creating and precipitating an unnecessary constitutional crisis."
Tsvangirai, who heads the opposition Movement for Democratic change (MDC), says that electoral, media and security laws still need to be implemented to ensure a free vote. These reforms were agreed on in 2009 when the coalition government was formed.
In an official government notice issued on Thursday, Mugabe said that "Given the deadline imposed by the Constitutional Court, it is inexpedient to await the passage through parliament of an act dealing with the situation."
This is a reference to a court ruling in May which stipulated that elections had to be held by the end of July. Opposition members have accused Mugabe's ZANU-PF loyalists of instigating the lawsuit that resulted in the decision. They say this will enable elections to go ahead while loopholes which could facilitate vote-rigging are still open.
Back in 2008 African leaders refused to recognise elections in Zimbabwe which were marred by violence. Tsvangirai said about 200 of his supporters were attacked then by Mugabe's ZANU-PF party militia. The regional leaders forced Mugabe to form a power-sharing government with Tsvangirai as prime minister.
Southern African leaders are due to meet in Mozambique over the weekend to discuss the current situation in Zimbabwe. That meeting will now go ahead in the knowledge that a date for the elections has been set.
Brigitte Juchems is the Resident Representative of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, a German political think tank, in Harare. She says Zimbabwe is not ready to hold elections at such short notice. "There is not enough time for voter registration, they don't have the staff, they have to be trained,” she said in an interview with DW's Africalink program. She anticipates long queues at voter registration centers, with many people being turned away and told to come back the next day. "You can imagine, if people have no money for transport, they might give up."
Juchems said many Zimbabweans had reacted positively to the election date news as "people had been getting tired in the last few months of not knowing what will happen." However, there is also a state of political confusion, due to the MDC's response. "Will there be a presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai?"
This should be clearer after regional leaders make their views known at the summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Court ruling requested
Edgar Mbwembwe is a member of parliament for Mugabe's ZANU-PF party. He disagrees with the argument that Zimbabwe is not ready for elections.
"We cannot continue to hold the whole country at ransom for political interests. We must go for elections," he told DW's Columbus Mavhunga. "As ZANU-PF we are ready for elections. We have been waiting and waiting, we must have them now. Even without reforms."
Tsvangirai intends to take the matter to the High Court on Friday (14.06.3013) and will request a ruling on the legality of Mugabe's call for elections before reforms have been enacted.