A HIGH Court judge has endorsed President Robert Mugabe’s plan to delay three overdue by-elections until March next year when the Zanu PF leader says the country should hold general elections.
The Supreme Court had given Mugabe until September 30 to call by-elections in three parliamentary constituencies – Nkayi South, Bulilima East and Lupane East – which fell vacant in 2009 when the MDC expelled three MPs.
But Mugabe, in papers filed at the High Court last Wednesday, argued that the government was broke and general elections were due in six months anyway.
Justice George Chiweshe - who heard arguments from lawyers representing the three MPs and Mugabe - declared Tuesday: “The period within which to comply with the order ... is hereby further extended to the 31st day of March 2012."
But Tawanda Zhuwarara of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights who are representing the three former legislators said the ruling was a “gross error”, adding it is the first time a lower court has rescinded the ruling of a superior court.
“We believe the court erred in allowing the state to plead its poverty and escape its constitutional obligation. No state has ever done so and we are currently consulting with our clients to map the way forward,” Zhuwarara said.
“The judge in his ruling did not give us his reasons for his (determination) but we are not ruling out appealing at the Supreme Court against the ruling. The judgement effectively places our clients in a quandary and we will consult with them to see what to do next.”
In his application, Mugabe said holding the three by-elections now would require that 29 vacant parliamentary seats and nearly 160 vacant local government seats be filled, a situation which he described as a “mini-general election”.
According to government figures, the “mini-general election” would require US$47,5 million at a time when the government is scrambling to find US$104,6 million for a referendum on a new constitution set to be held in November, and US$115,3 million for general elections next March.
The government is staring at a US$400 million deficit in its 2012 budget, and Finance Minister Tendai Biti has already turned to neighbours Angola, Botswana and South Africa for financial assistance.
Both Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai insist new elections are needed to replace a bitterly divided coalition administration which was facilitated by the regional SADC grouping following violent but inconclusive polls in 2008.
“It’s been a marriage of convenience,” Tsvangirai told supporters at the MDC-T’s 13th anniversary celebration in Bulawayo last weekend.
"A coalition cannot determine the country's destiny; all that the parties do is to pull in opposite direction. Zanu PF does not want it anymore. We don't want it."