Zimbabwe Constitutional Court Orders Elections by July 31

Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court imposed a July 31 deadline for the holding of elections and ordered President Robert Mugabe to announce the date soon.

“Elections should take place by no later than July 31,” Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku said, reading the court’s majority ruling in the capital, Harare. Mugabe is “hereby ordered and directed to proclaim as soon as possible a date for the holding of presidential elections, general elections and elections for governing bodies of local authorities,” he said.

Mugabe signed on a new constitution on May 22 after negotiations with his main political rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who leads the Movement for Democratic Change, paving the way for elections this year.

The MDC, which shares power with Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, rejected today’s ruling.

“The Supreme Court has no power whatsoever to set an election date,” MDC spokesman Luke Tamborinyoka said in an e-mailed statement. “In the true spirit of separation of powers, an election date remains a political process in which the executive has a role to play.”

The MDC said there was “clear evidence” that Zimbabwe’s executive wants to impose an election date on the country under a “cloak of judicial authority,” subverting an agreement that dates would be set after consultation between the country’s political parties.

The constitution had been in negotiation between Mugabe’s party and the MDC since disputed elections in 2008. After that vote, the two parties governed together under an agreement that brought an end to a decade of political and economic crisis, which saw inflation surge to 500 billion percent, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Today’s ruling came in response to a case filed by a citizen trying to force Mugabe to announce the election dates.

Mugabe, 89, has ruled the southern African nation since its independence from the U.K. more than three decades ago.

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