July 31 Zimbabwe polls doubtful

CONSTITUTIONAL law experts have expressed shock at the judgement passed by the Supreme Court last Friday ordering that elections be held at the end of next month.

By Pamela Mhlanga/NQABA Matshazi

MDC secretary for legal affairs David Coltart, said the ruling all but undermined all efforts to hold credible elections, saying he foresaw several logistical nightmares that made the holding of the election on July 31 almost impossible.

“The effect of the judgment will be to seriously undermine our chances of having credible elections,” he said. “I foresee a variety of very serious logistical and legal challenges arising including a denial of a few fundamental rights.”

Among the difficulties to be faced, Coltart said, was that the new Constitution specifically called for the amendment of the Electoral Act and a new voter registration drive, which if implemented according to the new Charter meant that elections on July 31 were impossible.

“The current Electoral Act, which has of course still to be changed — another challenge in itself — states there must be a minimum period of 28 days between nomination day and the election itself,” Coltart explained.

“Section 26A of the Act says that eligible voters must register no later than 24 hours before the nomination date. So assuming that the constitutionally mandated period of registration begins on Monday (today) it must then run until the end of 3rd July. That means that the nomination day cannot be before July 5.”

Coltart explained that there have to be 28 days between the nomination day and the election, which means the polls, cannot be before August 2 if the Constitution and the Electoral Act are to be complied with.

Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) deputy chairperson Joyce Kazembe has already hinted that the new voter registration exercise will not start today as planned and legally this is likely to push back the election date.

He said there were still a number of issues the political parties had to agree to, chief among them the newly introduced system of proportional representation and that the voter registration process would be adequately funded. “Accordingly far from this judgment being a triumph for the rule of law, it poses a very serious challenge to the painstakingly constructed process of peaceful reform we have been engaged in during the last five years,” Coltart said.

University of Zimbabwe law lecturer Greg Linnington said he was totally shocked at the judgment, saying the two judges who had voted against the ruling had done right.

“If you read the provisions of the new Constitution, it states that elections should take place within four months after Parliament expires on June 29,” he said. “It would be very, very difficult to meet the timelines considering that there should be a strong voter registration support mechanisms and financial support before the elections, of which if it is not there, it will be difficult to hold free and fair elections.

“I am very unhappy with the judgment passed by the majority.”

The Supreme Court on Friday ruled that elections be held on July 31, but two judges, Justices Luke Malaba and Bharat Patel dissented.

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