Mugabe’s headaches

HARARE – President Robert Mugabe is in a dilemma.

He is faced with a politically-uneasy situation in which he has to respect the law and order by-elections by August 31 as directed by the courts or ignore the ruling and face contempt of court charges, legal and political players say.

Legal and political experts say this situation has left Mugabe in an unenviable situation as he has no further avenue for appeal.

Upholding a High Court ruling ordering Mugabe to call for by-elections, a full Supreme Court bench last week directed Mugabe to call for elections for Nkayi South, Bulilima and Lupane East constituencies no later than August 31 this year.

Mugabe had argued that the government is broke and has no money to conduct elections this despite the fact that he has personally been clamouring for polls this year.

In his papers filed at the High Court by Justice and Legal Affairs minister Patrick Chinamasa,  Mugabe contested that there are now more than 30 vacant seats created requiring by-elections.

Mugabe says in order to hold elections, the country needs $38 million for vacant seats which were created either by death or floor crossing.

He argued they could not hold by-elections for only the three constituencies in question.

Jeremiah Bhamu a lawyer with Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said the judgment is a test of Mugabe’s political will to respect the rule of law.

“The judgment is only effective if there is political will to implement it. I have doubts that they will implement the judgment because of the number of constituencies that require by-elections. Instead of calling for by-elections the government will call for general elections,” said Bhamu.

Writing on his personal blog, Alex Magaisa a senior lecturer at the Kent Law School in the United Kingdom said the Supreme Court had made the correct decision as by elections were long overdue.

“What is regrettable and subject to criticism is that the judicial process took so long to come to this conclusion. Ideally, and in normal circumstances, the President, along with his political counterparts must now follow the law.

“Yet it would be naïve to lose sight of the political angles of this matter. The imminence of the General Election, the resource limitations and possible wastage, the potential instability that comes with elections, the strategic role of by-elections, the impending Constitutional Referendum all combine to make a cocktail of challenges that arise on account of this judgment,” said Magaisa.

Constitutional law expert Lovemore Madhuku said the judgment does not only affect Mugabe but the whole coalition government.

“The Supreme Court has now made its decision. It is now a political question. Whether Mugabe complies or not it’s another issue, it won’t be a surprise if elections are not held because we have been living without the rule of law for a long time now,” said Madhuku.

Political analyst Pedzisai Ruhanya said the Supreme Court decision is likely to be ignored as political parties will be focusing more on general elections which could be held next year.

“I do not think we are going to have polls. Mugabe will hide behind general elections. What we are going to see is within a short time, they are going to implement the outstanding issues. As partners they will find a subtle way of disregarding the court’s ruling.”

“However, if one party in the coalition decides to go against the ruling then that will be blatant contempt of court. The danger of a by-election is that it will send a wrong message to Mugabe,” said Ruhanya.

Former legislators Abednico Bhebhe (Nkayi South), Njabuliso Mguni (Bulilima) and Norman Mpofu (Lupane East) dragged Mugabe to court three years after having been chased from Ncube’s MDC formation.

Section 39 of the Electoral law says the President should call for elections within 14 days after having been informed by Speaker of Parliament of a vacant post but Mugabe has not done that. – Daily News