Opinion / Columnist

Zimbabwe elections could be held in 4 months

by Dewa Mavhinga
18 Apr 2012 at 14:31hrs | 2752 Views
The unbridled power given to the President by the much-amended Lancaster House Constitution means that technically he could dissolve Parliament and hold elections within four months.

It seems unlikely that Zanu-PF will be able to go ahead with elections as it is threatening, especially given SADC's pressure for compliance with an agreed roadmap that includes a new constitution. But it is necessary to look at the timeframe and procedures necessary if elections are to be called under the Lancaster House Constitution minus amendment 19.

Two critical points to bear in mind are that: (1) there is an Electoral Amendment Bill, 2011 currently before Parliament, independent of, and running parallel to, ongoing constitutional reforms; and, (2) President Mugabe wields immense power to legislate and alter the electoral terrain. The Presidential Powers (Temporal Measures) Act allows him to amend the Electoral Act and to institute Electoral Regulations at any time, including during elections.

The Lancaster House Constitution says the life-span of Parliament shall be five years counting from date of election of the president (June 28, 2008). This gives the current Parliament a lifespan of up to end of June 2013. However, the same section further provides that the President may, at any time, dissolve Parliament.

Following such dissolution of Parliament, section 58 provides that, 'a general election and elections for members of the governing bodies of local authorities shall be held on such day or days within a period not exceeding four months after the issue of a proclamation dissolving Parliament, as the President may, by proclamation in the Gazette, fix.'

Further, in terms of section 61A of the Lancaster House Constitution, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission shall, not later than three months before the date of dissolution of Parliament, determine the limits of the wards and constituencies into which Zimbabwe is to be divided for elections.

The Commission is required to produce a preliminary report on the delimitation exercise not later than one month before the date of proclamation dissolving Parliament. There are 210 House of Assembly seats and 60 senatorial seats. The Commission may advise the president to use existing delimitation boundaries. He is obliged to present the Delimitation Report to Parliament within seven days of receiving it.

All this means that if the Inclusive Government ceases to exist, Mugabe can dissolve Parliament and call fresh elections. If the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is given the maximum three months to draw ward and constituency boundaries it would take some seven months to prepare for elections. However, if the Registrar General says the voters' roll is ready and ZEC says it will use existing boundaries, then it only needs about four months to hold elections following dissolution of Parliament.

If Parliament was dissolved at the end of May â€" the deadline Mugabe gave for finalization of the new constitution â€" then the earliest elections can be held under the Lancaster House Constitution would be early August 2012. But Mugabe could use his powers to change the law pertaining to elections and time-frames.

Dewa Mavhinga is the Regional Coordinator at Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.

Source - Regional Coordinator at Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition
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