By Batsirai Chikuru*
Events of recent weeks, especially the chaotic mobile voter registration exercise, have made it clear that Zimbabwe cannot hold elections on June 29, when Parliament’s five-year term ends. The institutions charged with managing the electoral process are not ready; the environment for a credible election does not exist.
The Constitutional Bill has been passed by both houses of Parliament and will now be sent to President Robert Mugabe for his signature, and then published in the Government Gazette to become law, probably this week. This will leave only about five weeks until the end of Parliament’s, and the president’s, term on 29 June.
One of the most important elements is voter registration, and in the past few weeks, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and the Registrar General’s Office, the two institutions overseeing the process, have demonstrated their lack of competence.
Schedule Six of the new Constitution requires the Registrar General of Voters, under the ZEC’s supervision, to conduct a special and intensive voter registration and a voters’ roll inspection exercise for at least 30 days after the Constitution becomes law — but there is no guarantee that it will be any less chaotic that the efforts of the pass three weeks.
Also important is the synchronisation of election laws with the new Constitution. The Electoral Amendment Bill is expected to be gazetted once the Constitution is signed into law and made public. There are parliamentary procedures before the Bill becomes law. Once gazetted, the Bill is referred to the relevant portfolio committee — in this case the Justice, Legal, Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs Committee — which has 14 days to analyse it and report to Parliament. Then it is introduced to the House of Assembly and referred to the Parliamentary Legal Committee, which then has 26 days to report to the House on whether or not any of the Bill’s provisions violate the Constitution.
All this takes time, so it is difficult to see the Electoral Amendment Bill becoming law before the end of June. So it seems logical to assume that the general election will be held after June 29, and before October 29, in line with the Constitution.
It can be argued that it is unconstitutional to run a Government without a Parliament, but I doubt that those who wrote the current Constitution envisaged this problem arising. The President can declare the current situation an emergency and extend the life of both Parliament and Government by another four months, to October 29.
Even if the life of Parliament is not extended, it is still legal for ministers and vice presidents to remain in their jobs until the next Parliament assumes office.
*Batsirai Chikuru is the pseudonym for a Harare-based political analystTweet