Zimbabwe president says elections by July 31

Associated Press

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe said on Sunday he will abide by a court ruling to hold crucial elections before the end of July despite objections from his rivals.

Mugabe told the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp. traveling with him on trip to Japan he will convene polls "not later than July 31," state radio reported.

Mugabe, interviewed by the broadcaster Sunday, said some members in a coalition with former opposition leader Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai want to delay the elections "to enjoy being in power" for longer, the radio said.

The Constitutional Court, the nation's highest court, on Friday chided Mugabe for not calling elections linked to the dissolution of the parliament at the end of its current five year term on June 29.

Tsvangirai said electoral and democratic reforms demanded under the coalition agreement and a new constitution cannot be completed by July 31.

Mugabe traveled to Japan to attend an African development summit in Yokahama.

Mugabe described the coalition formed by regional leaders after the last violent and disputed elections in 2008 as having "outlived its usefulness," the radio said.

The president said he was consulting with Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa on changes to the electoral laws that should be finished in June so he can then announce the actual polling date for the following month.

Tsvangirai's party said Sunday that unless reforms to voters' lists and the registration of new voters are in place before voting there will be doubt over whether conditions allowed for a free and fair election.

Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change said it also demanded media reforms to end bias by the country's dominant state media controlled by Mugabe loyalists and an end to political intimidation and partisan actions by the police and military.

Those demands are written into a new constitution overwhelmingly accepted in a referendum in March, the party said.

"For the avoidance of any doubt, the MDC is ready for free and fair elections. The issue is not about the date but about the conditions under which these elections can be held," said party spokesman Douglas Mwonzora.

Pro-democracy activists allege Mugabe's own fractious ZANU-PF party wants early polls to take advantage of flaws in existing election procedures, shorten rigorous campaigning by its increasingly frail leader and hinder the deployment of regional election monitors.

Mugabe, 89, who led the nation to independence in 1980, has been accused of packing the courts with sympathetic judges that he appoints from the justice ministry and the legal profession.

Seven out of nine Constitutional Court judges ruled Friday that Mugabe violated his constitutional responsibilities by failing to declare polls by June 29.

But Judge Luke Malaba, in his dissenting opinion available on an official website Sunday, said his colleagues' ruling "defied logic" in finding Mugabe was in breach of his constitutional responsibilities "and at the same time authorizing him to continue acting unlawfully" by proclaiming a July date.

"That is a very dangerous principle and has no basis in law. The principle of the rule of law just does not permit such an approach," wrote Malaba.

He said the new constitution makes it clear that elections can be held within four months of the automatic dissolution of the parliament on June 29 and to hold them in July compromises constitutional rights for the electorate as a whole "to play a meaningful role in the electoral process," Malaba said.

A private lawsuit brought before the constitutional court to force Mugabe to call early polls turned clear and unambiguous language in the law into "a question of interpretation that plunged the court into irreconcilable differences."

"I, however, refuse to have wool cast over the inner eye of my mind on this matter," concluded Malaba.

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