This bulletin considers:-
• the exceptional circumstances under which the Constitution would permit an earlier election;
• a possible timeframe for a 3rd March 2018 election;
• the implications for ZEC and the preparation of the voters roll.
Exceptional Circumstance Leading to Early Dissolution of Parliament
There are three exceptional situations in which the Constitution permits an early dissolution of Parliament followed by a general election:
1. “The President must by proclamation dissolve Parliament if the Senate and the National Assembly, sitting separately, by the votes of at least two-thirds of the total membership of each House, have passed resolutions to dissolve.” [Constitution, section 143(2)]
2. “The President may by proclamation dissolve Parliament if the National Assembly has unreasonably refused to pass an Appropriation Bill” [the Budget]. [Constitution, section 143(3)]
3. “The President has dissolved Parliament following a vote of no confidence” [in the Government]. [Constitution, section 144(2)]
If the Government Thinks an Early Election is Politically Expedient
The President could of course ignore the Constitution and the law and just proclaim an early election. It is unlikely, however, that he would choose to face regional and international condemnation by doing this.
The option of refusing to pass an Appropriation Bill is also unlikely, as this provision was designed to be used in the case of an impasse between the government and Parliament. As Parliament has always virtually rubber-stamped Budget Bills it would be an unconvincing manoeuvre for the ruling party to use this provision to engineer an early election. Also “A decision to dissolve Parliament … may, on the application of any Member of Parliament, be set aside on review by the Constitutional Court” [Constitution, section 143(4)].
The option of getting Parliament to pass a vote of no confidence in the government is most unlikely as this would involve a public humiliation for the President and ZANU-PF.
This leaves the option of trying to dissolve Parliament using ZANU-PF’s large majority to do so. This would be unlikely to call down international opprobrium as it is not uncommon in democracies for the government of the day to choose to dissolve Parliament and call early elections. Although our Constitution did its best to prevent this from being the usual scenario, it had to make provision for it to prevent a possible deadlock in government.
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