HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe's highest court said Wednesday it has received an application from longtime President Robert Mugabe's party to delay crucial elections by at least two weeks following pressure from regional leaders.
Mugabe has insisted he is merely abiding by a previous court order in holding general elections on July 31. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, a longtime Mugabe foe and opposition leader, wants the vote to be held in September.
Zimbabwe's last elections in 2008 were plagued by violence and ultimately forced Mugabe to join a power-sharing government with the opposition. Officials at the Constitutional Court say the papers submitted by Mugabe's party ask the court to review the earlier ruling that called for a vote before the end of July.
The move comes days after southern African regional leaders met in Mozambique and pushed for an extension until Aug. 14 so that key electoral reforms and poll preparations can take place. Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said in the papers filed at the constitutional court that he was directed by a summit of the regional presidents in Mozambique to file an urgent application to postpone the elections and asked for an extension to Aug. 14, court officials said.
Tomaz Salomao, secretary-general of the 15-nation regional, political and economic bloc known as the Southern African Development Community, or SADC, said Tuesday the presidents had urged Mugabe and all political groups to heed their concerns over early elections. He said the SADC grouping pledged to recognize any new decision by Zimbabwe's highest court.
"If the court does not accept the appeal our task is to deploy our observers to ensure there is at least a conducive environment for elections," he said. Tsvangirai insists new elections can be called as late as October under the nation's new constitution to allow time for democratic reforms spelled out in both the power-sharing coalition agreement and the constitution to be put into place to pave the way for a free and fair vote.
His party says a two-week extension is still inadequate to complete reforms to sweeping media and security laws, and changes in the police, military and security services traditionally loyal to Mugabe to ensure their impartiality.
Mugabe declared the July poll date on June 13, saying he was obeying the ruling of the Constitutional Court that linked the need for elections to a month after the automatic dissolution of the Harare parliament at the end of its current five-year term on June 28.
His announcement on the voting date meant the drafting of amendments to long-standing elections laws were frozen on legal and procedural grounds. No date was immediately set for the appeal before the bench of nine judges at the Constitutional Court.