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Zimbabwe President Sets Election Date, Stirring More Dissent


Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe delivers his speech at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization FAO headquarters during a World Summit on Food Security, in Rome, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2009. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, pool)

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe delivers his speech at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization FAO headquarters during a World Summit on Food Security, in Rome, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2009. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, pool)

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has announced national elections will be held July 31 - sparking an outcry from his prime minister. The vote is expected to bring an end to this contentious four-year-old power-sharing government. But, the process is only creating further dissension in Zimbabwe politics.

The long-awaited announcement of the election date seemed only to have pushed Zimbabwe into a fresh political crisis.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai told journalists in Harare that President Mugabe informed him of the date in a letter.

Tsvangirai - who wants elections delayed until democratic reforms are implemented - said the president’s action are not legal.

“President Mugabe’s actions are a unilateral and flagrant breach of our Constitution. I, as prime minister, cannot and will not accept this. The net effect of President Mugabe’s unilateral and illegal proclamation is an unmitigated frontal and rear attack on the SADC, the AU and [South African] President Jacob Zuma. President Mugabe and his team cannot hide behind the concept of sovereignty that they long ago surrendered and mortgaged through the misgovernance and state failure that led SADC to engage in our affairs as way back as 2007," said Tsvangirai.

Tsvangirai warned earlier this week he would veto an early election date - saying it would only allow Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party to manipulate the vote.

The last Zimbabwe election was widely condemned as unfair and led African leaders in 2008 to force Mugabe to form a power sharing government with Tsvangirai.

Mugabe called elections using his presidential powers, saying he was complying with the constitutional court’s order for the vote to be held by the end of July.

This would be the first election under Zimbabwe’s new constitution, which voters overwhelmingly in a March referendum. It was supported by both the ZANU-PF and Tsvangirai’s MDC party.

Pedzisai Ruhanya, a media and democracy doctorate student at University of Westminster in Britain, said this election could plunge Zimbabwe into a fresh political crisis.

“Whether the MDC agrees or not, whether SADC agrees or not, Zimbabwe is headed for a hotly disputed election than any other. So it is up to SADC, the AU, [African Union] to see within the context of Mugabe’s proclamation how they come in and alleviate what could be a political disaster in the making," said Ruhanya.

After delaying a week, the leaders of the South African Development Community - the SADC - are this weekend expected to meet to discuss Zimbabwe’s election roadmap.

Tsvangirai said the SADC’s postponement was a mistake.

“It is now clear that President Mugabe called for the postponement in order to go to SADC with a done deal of an election date. Thus clearly, President Mugabe has sought to render the forthcoming SADC summit a dead rubber and a talk show. This is clearly dishonest and disrespectful of the esteemed leaders of SADC, the AU, President Zuma and our brothers and sisters on the African continent," he said.

Regional analysts say the SADC cannot force President Mugabe to change the date. But Ruhanya said the group can take steps to ensure a credible election if it acts quickly.

“It is possible for SADC to immediately deploy its observers, for AU to immediately deploy its observers. They have to deploy their people now and now, to monitor the registration process, to monitor the political environment before we go into a hotly disputed electoral outcome," he said.

But before that happens, Prime Minister Tsvangirai said his lawyers will go to court Friday to contest the election date.
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