AP – President Robert Mugabe has set national elections for March 29, according to a proclamation issued Friday that angered the opposition, which had called for the vote to be put back until constitutional disputes were settled.
The presidential proclamation was published by the state printer in Harare, though it was not publicized by the state broadcaster, the country’s sole radio and television station, in its daytime news bulletins Friday. The proclamation also dissolved parliament, which was already in recess and not due to reconvene until April, in preparation for the vote.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change had demanded more constitutional and electoral reforms before the election, and said polling should be delayed until June to allow for its demands to be met. Mugabe, though, had insisted national elections would take place by the end of March.
The Jan. 25 proclamation “is an ambush,” said MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa, calling on regional leaders to intervene. South African President Thabo Mbeki was chosen by the Southern African Development Community, or SADC, as chief mediator last year to try to resolve Zimbabwe’s deepening political and economic crisis through dialogue between Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition.
“We are supposed to be having dialogue, yet this is a slap in the face of SADC, of African solutions to African problems,” Chamisa said. “Mugabe is undermining this process. The issue of date (of elections) was supposed to be made by mutual agreement between the opposition and the regime.”
Ronnie Mamoepa, spokesman for South Africa’s foreign affairs ministry, said his government had not been informed the date had been set.
Chamisa said the South African-mediated talks had been deadlocked over constitutional issues and an election date.
“Before this is unlocked, Mugabe runs away from the negotiating table and mischievously announces the (election) date,” Chamisa said. “Surely it is an act of madness.”
Skirmishes between the opposition and police earlier this week had increased fears there would be little chance of free and fair campaigning ahead of voting.
State television on Jan. 25 quoted police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena as accusing the opposition of threatening unrest on the scale of “what has been happening in Kenya.”
At least 700 people have died in political unrest after disputed presidential elections in Kenya in December.
Zimbabwe opposition supporters heading on foot to a rally addressed by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai on Wednesday were dispersed police who fired tear gas and charged at the crowd.
Bvudzijena said 15 opposition protesters were arrested and fined on Jan. 23 after admitting to an offense of “criminal nuisance.”
He alleged they “provoked innocent people” on the streets by dancing, chanting, throwing stones and waving political placards at passers-by after a court had barred them from marching. While the march was barred, the court had approved the rally.
The Jan. 23 protest had been the first test of reforms to ease security and media laws negotiated by the opposition in the South African-mediated talks. Campaigning had been severely restricted in the past under sweeping public order regulations.