Zimbabwe court ruling on election date plays into Mugabe’s hands

Analysis: ruling gives president legal reason he had sought to hold poll early

Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, inspects a guard of honour at a police passing-out parade in Harare. Mugabe has set July 31st as the date for the country’s general election. Photograph: AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, inspects a guard of honour at a police passing-out parade in Harare. Mugabe has set July 31st as the date for the country’s general election. Photograph: AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

Mon, Jun 17, 2013, 16:05

It’s not often that losing a court case makes you a winner but a recent constitutional court ruling in Zimbabwe might well lead to that scenario for the country’s president, Robert Mugabe, who is seeking early elections.

Earlier this month former journalist Jealousy Mawarire, who now runs an election-monitoring group, won a case against Mugabe in the highest court in the land that forces him to hold national elections before July 31st.

Last week Mugabe said he accepted the court’s decision, and called the poll for July 31st.

His announcement plunged Zimbabwe into one of its worst political crises since the disputed 2008 presidential elections, when widespread state-prompted violence forced the South African Development Community (SADC) to intervene.

The court judgment, rather than damaging the Zanu-PF leader’s re-election chances, has played right into his hands, giving him the legal reason he needed to hold an early poll. He has been seeking one for more than a year because of his advanced age and because he believes his main opposition, prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, is vulnerable.


Reforms
The ruling also undermines efforts by Mugabe’s opponents to push through much-needed security, media and electoral reforms that would help to level the political playing field ahead of the poll. Tsvangirai, Mugabe’s political nemesis for the past 12 years, said his party would boycott an early election, as the much needed reforms could not be introduced by then.

“You can’t set a date of an election without my concurrence. Period. I will not give legitimacy to that election date unless we agree,” Tsvangirai told civil society organisations last week. He wants the poll to be pushed out to October.

On Saturday SADC held an emergency summit to try and turn the deepening crisis around, with Mugabe’s peers calling on him to postpone the election to mid-August.

The reforms being sought were agreed to as part of the Zanu-PF and MDC power-sharing deal brokered in 2009 by SADC to resolve disputed presidential elections the year before.

Since it came to power in 1980 with Mugabe at the helm, Zanu-PF has changed laws, taken control of the security forces and infiltrated nearly every organ of state to secure an advantage at election time.

South African president Jacob Zuma, SADC’s mediator in the Zimbabwe crisis, twisted Mugabe’s arm to attend the special summit, which had been scheduled for 10 days earlier. But, in an apparent move to outflank his opponents so he could unilaterally announce the election date, Mugabe had indicated he was too busy to attend, prompting postponement of that meeting.

Analysts believe he pulled out because he wanted to avoid a request to move the election date.

But in the middle of last week the summit was rescheduled to Saturday – it seems regional leaders are trying to force Mugabe to compromise.

The Sunday Times reported yesterday that a “visibly upset Mugabe” was the first to leave the summit in Maputo, Mozambique, where his government was mandated to petition the constitutional court for a two- week extension on the election date.

Whether the court will acquiesce to such a request remains to be seen. And even if it does, there are questions over how many additional reforms can be implemented in that time.

Although there is no proof, Zimbabwe’s rumour mill is in overdrive about the origins of Mawarire’s original constitutional court application, which set this chain of events in motion.

Was Mugabe a hidden hand behind it, and has he once again outfoxed his opponents?