Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has set out plans for a constitutional referendum in November and elections in March, a timetable that was quickly denounced by the opposition as “unrealistic.”
In a High Court filing seen on Thursday, Mugabe set out his most concrete timetable to date for two votes that are key to a bipartisan deal designed to stop Zimbabwe descending further into political violence.
Detailing the popular votes to be held in the next six months, Mugabe listed a “referendum, expected to take place during the first week of November.”
The document also said Mugabe wanted to “hold the harmonized elections in the last week of March 2013.”
The elections could be a major step toward recasting Zimbabwe’s troubled political scene, choosing a successor to the shaky power-sharing government formed three years ago between Mugabe and his political nemesis, Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
However, Tsvangirai’s allies at the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) voiced objections to Mugabe’s plan.
MDC spokesman Douglas Mwonzora told reporters “the dates being proposed are clearly not feasible.”
“The date for the election, especially, is unilateral, unrealistic and has no scientific or legal basis,” he added.
Mwonzora said his party was more concerned about conditions under which the vote takes place rather than the date.
However, there might other reasons why the MDC wants to delay the polls.
After 32 years in power, 88-year-old Mugabe has seen his political star rise in recent months, as the rival MDC has been hit with divisions and tainted by corruption scandals.
A recent Afrobarometer poll showed the MDC and Mugabe’s party, Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), running neck and neck.
Trevor Maisiri, an independent analyst with the International Crisis Group, said the timetable “is quite feasible,” although a raft of reforms would need to be introduced in quick order.
As part of the pact which gave birth to the power-sharing government the parties agreed to a raft of reforms including drafting a new constitution and tinkering security, electoral and media laws.
There are doubts about whether a new constitution, which would include term limits, will be passed.
ZANU-PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo said the party was eager for the elections to go ahead.
However, there was deep skepticism over the motives for Mugabe’s announcement, after a series of opaque election plans have come to nothing.
“ZANU-PF has been calling for elections since 2010, and they couldn’t have their way in 2010, they couldn’t have their way in 2011. March 2013 is the nearest feasible time that they can have an election,” Maisiri said.
Mugabe’s court filing also included a request to delay the date of three parliamentary by-elections.
“President Mugabe might be trying to get the sympathy of the court as to why he cannot hold the by-election,” Phillan Zamchiya of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition said. “Mugabe and ZANU-PF are scared of holding by-election in the three constituencies ... because there is no chance whatsoever of winning those constituencies.”