Zimbabwe Constitutional Court Orders Elections By July 31

Zimbabwe's Constitutional Court ordered President Robert Mugabe on Friday to ensure that the country's presidential and parliamentary elections are held by July 31.

In a ruling Friday, Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku of the Constitution Court ordered Mugabe to "proclaim as soon as possible a date for the holding of presidential elections, general elections and elections of members of governing bodies of local authorities."

Stressing that the "elections should take place no later than 31 July 2013," Justice Chidyausiku noted that only two members of the nine-judge panel had dissented to the ruling he delivered.

Friday's court ruling came just a week after Mugabe signed the African country's new constitution into law. The new charter, backed by the main parties and approved in a referendum in March, allows for a range of reforms, including limiting presidents to two five-year terms and abolishing the role of prime minister.

Notably, 89-year-old Mugabe, who is the supreme leader of the Zanu-PF party, is expected to be challenged by Morgan Tsvangirai, the current Prime Minister and leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), in the forthcoming presidential polls.

Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe ever since it gained independence from Britain in 1980. He took over the leadership of the Zanu-PF party in the 1970s, during the guerrilla war against the white-minority government of Zimbabwe, formerly known as Rhodesia.

Mugabe has already indicated that he intends to seek another term in the forthcoming elections. While Mugabe has been calling for early polls, Tsvangirai had argued that fresh elections should be delayed until constitutional reforms are fully implemented to ensure a free and fair vote.

A political crisis had erupted in Zimbabwe following Mugabe's victory in June 2008 presidential run-off election from which Tsvangirai had withdrawn alleging state-sponsored violence against opposition supporters.

The crisis was resolved in November 2009 by the formation of a unity government, in line with a power-sharing deal mediated by the SADC regional grouping. The process of creating a new constitution began soon after the the inclusive government was formed.

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