Zuma thwarts Mugabe poll plan
Led by President Jacob Zuma, Southern African leaders forced Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to postpone presidential and parliamentary elections by 14 to 30 days, at a dramatic summit in Maputo on Saturday.
Mugabe had unilaterally proclaimed the election date as July 31 last week but on Saturday he was obliged to back down by his fellow leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) who accepted the argument of the two Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leaders that the date was too soon to hold a proper poll.
Tendai Biti, Zimbabwe’s Finance Minister and secretary-general of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC, was ecstatic about the decision yesterday, calling it “historic, amazing and dramatic. Now Zimbabweans have got an opportunity for free and fair elections.
“SADC has saved the nation by adopting fully the recommendations made by facilitator President (Jacob) Zuma and therefore nullifying (Mugabe’s) proclamation.”
He explained that the SADC had decided to accept Zuma’s proposal that Mugabe go back to the Constitutional Court – which had earlier decided the election must be held by July 31 – to seek a postponement.
“This is unbelievable,” Biti enthused, adding that “the nature of the application to the court for a delay will decide whether it will take 14 or 30 days to complete what needs to be done.”
He said that Mugabe’s advisory team should be fired by allowing him to make an illegal proclamation. This had created “a disaster for President Mugabe who was embarrassed before an entire SADC summit.”
Earlier there were fiery debates inside the closed summit as Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Welshman Ncube, leader of the smaller MDC, accused Mugabe of cooking the political books about the date of elections.
The dice was loaded against Mugabe as both his partners in the inclusive government accused him of falsely and illegally proclaiming elections this week for July 31.
Mugabe, 89, gave a spirited defence of his proclamation and his use of a presidential decree to pass new election laws so they would be in harmony with the constitution adopted last month.
The new Zimbabwe constitutional court ruled on May 31 that elections should be held on July 31.
Mugabe told the SADC summit that he had to obey the court which is why, he said, he used presidential powers to pass new electoral laws which had been agreed by the cabinet last week.
He claimed Parliament would not be able to pass them into law on time for the July 31 deadline.
No press were present inside the Maputo summit, but sources said that Tsvangirai told SADC leaders that Zimbabwe’s problems were all political and that was why the SADC was mediating the long crisis and had to resolve it politically.
He claimed that Mugabe had avoided “due process” with his proclamation and that parliament and not the president had to pass the new election laws.
Tsvangirai also reportedly told the summit that the new constitution recently adopted stipulated that Mugabe could not make decisions about elections unilaterally, and had to consult him, as the prime minister.
Ncube, a seasoned constitutional lawyer, and leader of the small MDC party, appealed to Mugabe to be “president of Zimbabwe, not just president of Zanu PF,” and spelled out several illegalities which he said marred Mugabe’s proclamation and use of presidential powers to amend electoral laws.
The speeches were over before afternoon tea break but the regions leaders debated long and hard before agreeing on a statement.
Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, secretary-general of Ncube’s MDC commented from Maputo yesterday, saying it was sad that Mugabe had been wrongly advised by a faction within Zanu PF.
“I am sitting in this summit and so conflicted, I have listened to president Mugabe, heard prime minister Tsvangirai, listened to professor Ncube give a plain and simple explanation on the unconstitutionality of the proclamation.
“I am glad we can put our case, but do we have to get to where a group of people drag their leader (Mugabe) here, advise him wrongly therefore embarrassing him in front of his colleagues?
“How do people set their leader up like this? I can’t even look at him, but more so I am angry with this group who want president Mugabe to end his career this way.”
Zimbabwe has also asked SADC states to donate R1.5 billion for the next elections as there is no money to pay for the polls, according to Biti.
Independent Foreign Service