Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe must hold elections before August, the country’s Constitutional Court has ordered.
Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku ordered Mugabe, who has been in power for 33 years, to “proclaim as soon as possible a date for the holding of presidential elections, general elections and elections of members of governing bodies of local authorities”.
Speaking on Friday, the judge said the vote should take place “no later than the 31st of July 2013”.
The office of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai – who is in an uncomfortable coalition government with Mugabe – reacted angrily to the ruling, saying the court had overstepped its authority.
Mugabe, 89, and his allies want elections as early as June, but his power-sharing partner and longtime political rival Tsvangirai wants reforms first to ensure a free and fair vote before the poll is held.
The case was brought by freelance journalist Jealous Mawarire who asked the court to compel Mugabe to announce an election date before the tenure of the current parliament ends on June 29.
Luke Tamborinyoka, Tsvangirai’s spokesman, said in a statement that the ruling “is evidence that the court has overstepped its mandate”.
The “court has no power whatsoever to set an election date. An election date is the responsibility of the executive,” he said.
Zimbabwe’s new constitution, signed into law earlier this month, allows elections to be held up to four months after the dissolution of parliament.
But Mawarire said that delaying elections by four months after parliament is dissolved went against the tenets of democracy.
In his application, Mawarire argued that the dissolution of parliament should be immediately followed by elections to avoid a situation where Mugabe would run the country single-handedly.
“The constitution is there to give us guidelines, so that those who are in power would not just call for elections when they think it’s expedient for them to do that,” he said.
He told reporters outside the courthouse that “the issue of when elections are supposed to be conducted has become a very big issue”.
On May 22, Mugabe signed Zimbabwe’s new constitution into law, allowing for the application of a battery of reforms.
Under the new law, presidents will now be limited to two five-year terms and the post of prime minister will be scrapped when a new government is voted in.