ZIMBABWE will hold a mini-general election before the end of the year to comply with a Supreme Court ruling, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said in Parliament on Thursday.
Three former MDC MPs who were expelled by their party in 2009 took President Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to court to force by-elections in their former constituencies.
Last week, the Supreme Court threw out Mugabe’s appeal against a High Court order for the by-elections to be held. The government had argued it did not have money.
Mugabe must gazette election dates by August 30, according to the Supreme Court.
Chinamasa told the Senate that the Supreme Court ruling had wider implications beyond the three constituencies – Lupane East, Nkayi South and Bulilima East.
“Countrywide, we will have to run harmonised elections for all vacant seats in both Parliament and local authorities,” Chinamasa said in reply to a question by Rushinga Senator Damian Mumvuri (Zanu PF).
Chinamasa said there were THIRTY EIGHT vacant seats in the Senate and House of Assembly, and more than 200 in rural and urban councils mainly as a result of deaths.
He told Senators: “The implication (of the ruling) is that the situation in 38 parliamentary vacant constituencies is similar to the situation in the three constituencies. The implication is we can’t hold by-elections in three vacant constituencies only, but in 38 parliamentary vacant seats and in all vacant seats in local authorities as well.”
Chinamasa admitted the government had no budget for the elections, but said the rule of law dictated that the court ruling must be respected.
According to the government’s own estimates, the by-elections could cost close to US$40 million. Only on Thursday, Finance Minister Tendai Biti was warning that the country was nearly bankrupt because the government was “eating more than it killed”.
President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF party has been demanding elections this year, but the party has faced resistance from its MDC rivals who insist on political and electoral reforms to be implemented first, including the adoption of a new constitution.
This week, the House of Assembly passed the Electoral Amendment Bill and a new draft constitution was forwarded to President Robert Mugabe and his MDC coalition partners Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Industry Minister Welshman Ncube. It could be put to a public referendum as early as September.
Zanu PF officials are planning to use the Supreme Court judgement to corner the MDC factions. If the MDC parties enter the by-elections, Zanu PF will use that to blow holes into the two parties’ earlier arguments that free and fair elections are not possible before reforms.
Nathaniel Manheru, a pro-government polemicist who writes a weekly column in the state-run Herald newspaper, said last Saturday that if the MDC parties field candidates in the mini-by elections, they would have done their earlier arguments about “outstanding issues” a lot of damage.
The rug has also been pulled from underneath the feet of the regional trade bloc, SADC, which has also been applying brakes to Mugabe’s election push, he added.
“Until this court decision, the whole debate has evolved as if only GPA [Global Political Agreement] principals, watched by SADC through its facilitator [South African President Jacob Zuma], have been the only factors at play. The Supreme Court has now shown this was a mistaken overrating of persons and institutions which, in any event, are themselves the players in the game about to begin. It has shown it is a game-changer, indeed the writer of rules of the game which SADC seeks to referee,” Manheru wrote.
“This is a key adjustment to the whole electoral equation in which all sorts of political arguments, not least among them the bogey of ‘outstanding issues’, were being summoned to extend indefinitely the saccharine but increasingly illegal governing moment.
“If the MDC formations needed until June next year ‘to level the playing field’, they now have until August this year to do so. And we are in July!”