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Zimbabwe election date tussle gets serious (+video)

Opposition politicians say President Robert Mugabe is using a constitutional court's call for an early date to achieve an unconstitutional outcome. 

By Mxolisi NcubeContributor / June 13, 2013

Police officers are on parade as Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe inspects the honor guard at a police pass-out parade in Harare, Thursday, June, 13, 2013.

Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

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Johannesburg, South Africa

For most of this year no one knew if or when the most important election in Zimbabwe’s history would actually take place. There's been an on-again, off-again cat-and-mouse game led by President Robert Mugabe

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But now it seems President Mugabe is pushing for July 31 while Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai says any elections before August 25 will be too early to allow critical reforms to take hold.

The election saga has had a circus quality even as Mr. Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s strongman since 1980, agreed to a new constitution earlier this year in what has been widely interpreted as a positive breakthrough.

The stakes for Zimbabwe are high in terms of carrying out a non-violent free and fair election that allows for some semblance of balanced media and restraint by security forces.

But now the election circus has reached a fever pitch, with anger expressed by a majority of contending parties in a letter of protest on June 10 about the July 31 date.

Since 2011, President Robert Mugabe's Zanu (PF) party has tried to force an early poll. Yet none of those occasions has caused as tense an atmosphere as the July 31 deadline.

While that deadline was set by the constitutional court, Mr. Tsvangirai said this week that Mugabe's use of the date is "unconstitutional and unlawful."  He argues a July 31 date will allow Mugabe to escape the kind reforms agreed to as part of the “global political agreement” by which the coalition was set up.

Without reforms, the election can be easily rigged, the challengers say. 

This has brought an escalating back and forth between forces behind the 89-year old ruler and his political challengers.

With a new constitution, Mugabe says the country is ready for what, to many analysts, will be the country's most important vote since the 1980 elections that gave the country its independence from Britain.

"The most important task … was putting in place a new constitution and we have already done that,” said ruling party spokesman Rugare Gumbo early this week. “We are also obliged to follow our own courts … the Constitutional Court has ruled that we must hold the elections before the end of July."

"We are a sovereign nation and cannot wait for some external forces to come and tell us when we can hold our elections and when we cannot," Mr. Gumbo added.

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