HARARE — Zimbabwe’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) on Monday backtracked after Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai questioned a ruling on Friday by the Constitutional Court that ordered President Robert Mugabe to announce an election date before July 31.
The about-turn has drawn criticism from political observers who say the MDC has again given in to Mr Mugabe’s demands.
Mr Tsvangirai’s authority, which has been eroded in the past four years in the nominal power-sharing government, has been under scrutiny. Junior Zanu (PF) ministers routinely defy his orders while Mr Mugabe continually makes key decisions unilaterally and the military’s top brass tacitly refuses to recognise him.
On Monday, MDC spokesman Douglas Mwonzora dismissed as “Zanu (PF) propaganda” reports that the MDC was seeking to delay elections because it was not ready.
“For the avoidance of any doubt, the MDC is ready for free and fair elections in Zimbabwe. That means for the MDC, the issue is not about the date of the elections, it is about the conditions under which these elections are held,” Mr Mwonzora said.
“To that end, reforms to ensure the total eradication of all forms of state-sponsored violence must be completed first.”
The MDC is pressing for reforms in the security and media sectors which are outlined in a Southern African Development Community (Sadc)-endorsed election roadmap.
Zanu (PF) official Rugare Gumbo at the weekend cast aside any pretension that the party plans to meet Global Political Agreement requirements. He is quoted as saying calls for reforms (by Sadc and other bodies) before elections have been overtaken by the new constitution, which he said would be grounds for free and fair elections.
Sadc, which is to hold a weekend summit conference in Maputo, has insisted that all reforms be honoured before the elections are held.
Meanwhile, Jealousy Mawarire, the executive director of the Centre for Elections and Democracy in Southern Africa, whose court application compelled the Constitutional Court to pass the ruling on the election date, told Business Day on Monday the MDC would have been in contempt of court had it chosen to defy the ruling.
“Anyone who wouldn’t abide (with the ruling) is in contempt of court … This is not an early election as it is claimed in some quarters. Everyone knew June 29 was the cutoff date for parliament.
“One can’t say in July it is an early election. Under the agreements made in the unity government, elections were supposed to have taken place in 18 months, but we are already more than 48 months behind,” Mr Mawarire said.
Mr Mugabe may rule by decree from the end of this month until the election. A journalist with the defunct Tribune and Zimbabwe Mirror, Mr Mawarire said the Constitutional Court application was sought in his personal capacity.
He denied his court application had served to provide legal cover for Mr Mugabe, which had been clamouring for an election at the end of this month, but faced political resistance from the MDC.
“I am not privy to Zanu (PF) details. All I know from media reports is that they have not held primary elections to pick candidates and that means it is a party which has no candidates,” Mr Mawarire said.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition director McDonald Lewanika said Mr Mawarire’s victory had placed the MDC in a difficult position, where it would have been damned whether it accepted or rejected the court ruling.