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President Robert Mugabe looks certain to ambush his rivals, currently in sixes and sevens over coalition talks, through an early proclamation of poll dates in order to catch them napping.

With the opposition parties haggling over who should lead their mooted grand coalition, Mugabe and his Zanu PF party have made considerable progress in putting the building blocks for early 2018 elections, in which the main highlight is likely to be the contest between MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, and the ageing veteran nationalist.

The Zanu PF youth league has since set the party’s campaign machine rolling with the ongoing youth interface rallies attracting bumper crowds for Mugabe, who want to extend his rule at the helm of government beyond the current 37 years.

So far, the 93-year-old Zanu PF leader has addressed youths at well-attended rallies in Marondera (Mashonaland East), Mutare (Manicaland) and Masvingo.  This comes as Zanu PF has also begun to revamp its administrative systems through a restructuring of its grassroots organs to enhance their vibrancy. The party’s secretary for administration, Ignatius Chombo, is spearheading the exercise and has been moving around the provinces holding workshops with provincial secretaries for administration and chairpersons.

Chombo has so far been to almost all the provinces, including Mashonaland East, Manicaland and Mashonaland Central. In his address to the Mashonaland West Provincial Coordinating Committee (PCC) meeting, Chombo hinted that Mugabe could call for early polls, calling on Zanu PF officials to stand ready for anything. He said the party needed to conclusively deal with all pending disciplinary cases to give it ample time to heal the wounds created by the rifts over Mugabe’s succession.

“This is July and the President is not forced by anyone to declare elections in June (2018). He can choose any date next year. Let’s be ready, expecting that the elections may come in February or March, which means we must be ready. We don’t want to be under pressure and be caught unaware,” Chombo said.

Chombo called on factions that are battling for the soul of the party in the event that Mugabe leaves the political stage to close ranks to ensure victory.

“What the President said at the youth interface rallies should be taken to heart by every member of Zanu PF. I am saying here that if you have been in a faction, steer away from it,” he said.

University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure said it was only natural that ahead of an election the incumbent will “strategically announce the dates. Masunugure warned that if Mugabe’s rivals do not start campaigning now, they will be caught flatfooted and will be in for a through beating come elections.

“The opposition must expect the incumbent to only announce election dates when it is convenient for him and when he thinks his rival are least prepared,” Masunugure said.

“The opposition should have been ready as of yesterday but unfortunately they are busy haggling about issues that do not matter to the electorate so they will most likely be caught off-guard. The MDC, for example, has not yet woken up from the slumber that was induced by their 2013 defeat and their structures don’t seem to be ready for the job at hand, and that is tragic,” he added.

According to the Constitution, Zimbabwean elections cannot be held later than August 21, 2018 when the life of the current term of Parliament comes to an end.

Section 158 of the Constitution provides that “a general election must be held so that polling takes place not more than 30 days before the expiry of the five-year period specified in section 143”.

“The President must by proclamation call and set dates for a general election to be held within the period prescribed in section 158,” the Constitution says.

This means that the election would, at the earliest, have to be held on July 23, 2018 and the latest on August 21. Constitutional lawyers canvassed by the Daily News yesterday said it was still within Mugabe’s rights to hold the elections much earlier.

Political analyst Ibbo Mandaza said while Mugabe can proclaim dates any time in 2018, much will depend on the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s preparedness.

“I don’t think Mugabe will proclaim election dates too early as to be deemed as having ambushed his rivals because Zec may not be prepared to hold the elections. Did they say they are ready now? I don’t think they are. In any case, the president will have to dissolve Parliament first and give 30 days’ notice, which makes it all complicated,” Mandaza said.


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