HARARE, Zimbabwe – Zimbabwe’s constitutional Court ruled Thursday that crucial elections will go ahead on July 31 despite appeals to delay the poll from the former opposition in the country’s shaky coalition.
Regional mediators had urged President Robert Mugabe to postpone the polls until Aug. 14 to allow for more democratic reforms and changes to electoral laws. The court unanimously ruled against delaying the vote, Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku, head of the constitutional Court said Thursday.
Chidyausiku said the elections will proceed on July 31. He said detailed reasons for the decision will be released later.
The regional leaders made their appeal to delay elections at a special summit on Zimbabwe in neighbouring Mozambique on June 15.
The 15-nation regional, economic and political bloc known as the Southern African Development Community, or SADC, has said it will abide by any ruling by Zimbabwe’s courts on its request for a poll postponement.
The constitutional Court in May ordered Mugabe to hold polls by the end of July, arguing that the elections should be linked to the dissolution of the parliament at the end of its current five-year term on June 29.
Mugabe last month used special presidential powers to unilaterally set July 31 for the national vote arguing he is obeying a court ruling after a private lawsuit brought against him demanded early polls.
Lawyers for Tsvangirai argued Thursday that Mugabe’s poll call was illegal because Tsvangirai had not agreed to the July 31 date under the terms of the coalition deal that required consensus on major policy decisions in Zimbabwe.
Tsvangirai, had applied for a 25-day delay from the July proclamation by Mugabe last month.
Tsvangirai claims under the nation’s power-sharing deal, brokered by the same regional leaders after violent and disputed elections in 2008, Mugabe needs his consent on when to hold elections.
Tsvangirai’s attorney Lewis Uriri said they wanted the elections held by Aug. 25 to allow for much- needed reforms in the police and military loyal to Mugabe as well as amendments to electoral laws that critics say have led to vote-rigging by Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party in the past.
Polls after Aug. 14 would clash with one of the world’s largest tourism conferences, the United Nations World Travel Organization summit, that Zimbabwe is set to host on Aug. 24.
The court said Thursday that Tsvangirai should have sought the delay soon after the judgment instead of waiting for Mugabe to announce the date.
“He left it to the President to do want he wants or else he could have come to the court sooner,” said one of the nine-judge court, Justice Luke Malaba.
Malaba said Tsvangirai’s reluctance to approach the courts earlier “meant he was happy with the date.”
Tsvangirai claims Mugabe duped him into believing that the two were going to agree on the date only to go behind his back and make the proclamation.
“It was irresponsible for the President not to consult with his partner, no one anticipated he would resort to using presidential powers,” Uriri said.