Mugabe must hold elections by end of July, Zimbabwe court orders

 

Zimbabwe's highest court has ordered the nation's president to hold crucial elections by the end of July.

Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku said that president Robert Mugabe's failure to announce the election date was "a violation of his duties".

A new constitution accepted in a referendum in March requires amendments to electoral laws and voting procedures that lawyers groups say need about two months to complete.

Veritas, an independent legal research group, said that the court's July date is impractical.

A private lawsuit was brought to the court on May 24 to force Mugabe to call early polls.

The private court application claimed the country could not be run without the existence of the parliament, rendering the government illegal.

But Veritas said the constitution allows for the executive arm and government ministries to continue operating without a sitting parliament for up to four months after the legislature dissolves on June 29.

Judge Chidyausiku, sitting alongside eight senior judges in the Constitutional Court, said their ruling ordered elections to be held by July 31. He described Mugabe's failure to announce the election date as "a violation of his duties".

Two judges dissented.

Prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the former opposition leader in a coalition with Mugabe after violent and disputed elections in 2008, wants a vote that would end their power-sharing agreement to be held in September at the earliest.

Tsvangirai said in a statement that the court had no power to set an election date and the judges had "overstepped their mandate".

Zimbabweans still expect electoral and wider reforms along with an intensive voter registration campaign "that would not have anyone unnecessarily disenfranchised" in the upcoming elections, he said.

Mugabe's fractious ZANU-PF party has repeatedly called for early polls to endorse Mugabe, 89, for another five-year presidential term. Mugabe led the nation to independence from colonial rule in 1980.

The new constitution limits the presidential office to two five-year terms but is not retroactive, allowing Mugabe if re-elected to serve up to age 99.

AP

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