HARARE – This article focuses on the timing of elections and is necessitated by comments by President Emmerson Mnangagwa on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos that general elections would be held earlier than July, 2018.
Unfortunately, since getting into office, Mnangagwa has made several statements which do not agree with the Constitution, and his statements at Davos should be treated with caution. This is what he said about the elections:-
“In my own view, we want to consolidate and deepen constitutionalism in Zimbabwe and in terms of our current Constitution. Every five years, we are required to submit ourselves to seek a new mandate, so the five-year term ends in July,” he said.
“Now, the Constitution allows us to have elections even six months before the last date of July, because of the introduction of the biometric voter registration, the new system of voting, which is ending on February 12.
“After February 12, I will be able to make a proclamation on elections, so I believe elections will be earlier than July.”
There are four problems with this statement:-
The five-year mandate for government ends in July, 2018. This is incorrect. The life of Parliament is five years coterminous with that of the incumbency of the president, and thus runs from the date that the president was sworn into office — August 22, 2013, and not July, 2013 (the day of the last general elections).
Furthermore, the ministers and the president remain after the elections and until the new president-elect is sworn into office.
This misunderstanding by the president that the five years run from the date of the last elections may explain his earlier statement that elections will be in “four or five months”.
The Constitution “allows us to have elections even six months before the last date of July”. This is incorrect. The Constitution requires that the election must be held no more than 30 days before Parliament ordinarily dissolves at the end of the five years.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) announced the biometric voter registration mop-up exercise to run up to February 8 and not to February 12, as Mnangagwa stated.
Biometric voter registration does not then come to an end as the president mentioned, but only the blitz or mop-up i.e. the construction of the new roll. Thereafter continuous voter registration will take place until 12 days after the nomination courts sit.
Once the blitz and mop-up is finished, Zec is obliged to construct the new roll from the data gathered during the blitz and mop-up.
This requires a de-duplication process, if it is to be done properly, and the process is time-consuming and will take a month or more to complete.
The 2013 Constitution removed the power of the president to dissolve Parliament and announce election dates through a Presidential Proclamation. Mnangagwa seems unaware of this.
Mnangagwa may only issue the proclamation setting the date for the sitting of the nomination court and election day in two instances: on the ordinary or extraordinary dissolution of Parliament.
The president does not have the power to unilaterally cause the extraordinary dissolution of Parliament and declare elections. Parliament can, however, be dissolved extraordinarily on several grounds, one of which is if two-thirds of the total membership of the Senate and National Assembly sitting separately have resolved that it should be dissolved.
The preceding issues raise the question as to whether Zanu PF alone has sufficient numbers to raise the two-thirds majority needed for the extraordinary dissolution of Parliament.
MDC vice president and Member of Parliament for Kuwadzana East Nelson Chamisa stated at a public seminar in January that Zanu PF cannot gain the two-thirds majority required without the assistance of the opposition.
Unlike the “impeachment” process, when voting for dissolution, the two Houses sit separately. The two-thirds is that of total membership, and not those present and voting.
Chipfunde-Vava is Zimbabwe Election Support Network executive director.