Movement for Democratic Change president Morgan Tsvangirai. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Movement for Democratic Change president Morgan Tsvangirai. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

HARARE — A high court judge is expected to rule on Wednesday whether Zimbabwe can hold harmonised elections on June 29 — a position backed by President Robert Mugabe — amid tension over possible election dates in the country’s four-year-old unity government.

Judge President George Chiweshe, an ally of Mr Mugabe and chairman of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission during the 2008 elections, will make the ruling.

Mr Mugabe is in favour of a June election, citing it as the legally backed end of his term in office, and is opposed to suggestions of an extension as the government will have no Parliament to enforce the law.

Last month, the president filed an urgent application seeking to be excused from complying with a court order that would force him to proclaim dates for three by-elections in Matabeleland by the end of March.

Mr Mugabe said it would be expensive for the cash-strapped Zimbabwean government to stage the ballots three months ahead of the general election, which he told the high court had to be held by June 29.

However, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Welshman Ncube, the leader of the smaller offshoot of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, have rejected Mr Mugabe’s push, fearing that political reforms to allow a credible election are not yet in place.

Political observers say the choice of an election date has now become a matter of convenience for leaders in the unity government.

"This has obviously created tensions," said Trevor Maisiri, a political analyst at the nonprofit International Crisis Group. "The lack of a clear and conclusive election road map will always mean we leave things to chance, including the timing of elections.

"The Southern African Development Community needs to step in and decisively guide the political parties to draw up and agree to an election road map. That will become the most effective benchmark, which should determine election timing."

Mr Mugabe, who turned 89 in February and suffers from ill health linked to prostate cancer, is widely seen as unable to mount a vigorous election campaign.