What the Constitution says about elections – 5

In this new series Magari Mandebvu explains the constitutional provisions that govern the holding of elections in Zimbabwe. This supreme law of the land details exactly how the government of they must seek a mandate to govern from the people. We all need to be aware of just how this is supposed to done.

REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Our examination of the electoral chapter of the Constitution continues with Part 2 of chapter 7:

Timing of Elections

  1. Timing of elections. (not included in clauses that come into effect on publication of this Constitution)

(1) A general election must be held so that polling takes place not more than

(a) thirty days before the expiry of the five-year period specified in section 143;

The principle here is to prevent any elected government from declaring a new election when they are momentarily popular, so that we are fooled into electing them for another five years (or less if they pull the same trick again) although, on balance, we may have been dissatisfied with them most of the time. Harold Macmillan pulled this trick in UK in 1959, by reducing the tax on beer during an unusually hot summer and calling an election before winter so that voters would remember him for cheap beer regardless of his other policies. Other British Prime Ministers have done the same but they tried to remove this provision, so that elections are held only every five years with allowance for the same emergencies as in our Constitution

(b) where Parliament has passed resolutions to dissolve in terms of section  143, ninety days after the passing of the last such resolution;

and section 143 says:

143 Duration and dissolution of Parliament

  1. Parliament is elected for a five-year term which runs from the date on which the President-elect is sworn in and assumes office in terms of section 94(1)(a), and Parliament stands dissolved at midnight on the day before the first polling day in the next general election . . .
  2. The President must by proclamation dissolve Parliament if the Senate and the National Assembly, sitting separately, by the votes of at least two-thirds of the total membership of each House, have passed resolutions to dissolve.
  3. The President may by proclamation dissolve Parliament if the National Assembly has reasonably refused to pass an Appropriation Bill referred to in section 305.
  4. A decision to dissolve Parliament in terms of subsection (3) may, on the application of any Member of Parliament, be set aside on review by the Constitutional Court.
  5. An application for the review of a decision to dissolve Parliament must be filed with the Constitutional Court within seven days after the decision was published, and-

(a)       the Constitutional Court must determine the application within fourteen days after it was filed

This limits the president’s power to dissolve parliament on his own initiative to case (3) above, that is if parliament unreasonably (but how do you define what is reasonable?) refuses to pass a Bill to release funds for the running of government after they have agreed to the amount to be paid. Even in this case, any MP can challenge the dissolution in the Constitutional Court. All of this means that parliament can only be dissolved at the end of its 5-year term or with the consent of MPs. The only exception to this is covered by the next clause in section 158:

  • where Parliament is dissolved in terms of section 109(4) or (5) following a vote of no confidence, ninety days after the dissolution.

And these clauses of section 109 define very closely a vote of no confidence, by 2/3 majority in a sitting of both houses of parliament and in that case limits the President’s function to appointing a new government if parliament cannot agree on one; if he can’t put together a cabinet that commands enough support he should dissolve parliament within 14 days and call new elections, but if he doesn’t do this within 14 days, parliament is dissolved anyway.

You notice that there is very little the president can do in this area without the consent of parliament, and if parliament proves unworkable, a new election must be held to elect a new parliament.

  • General elections to local authorities must take place concurrently with presidential and parliamentary general elections.

This is not a general rule in all democracies. In the polarised state of our politics we need to consider two questions:

1) Will local government be paralyased if  people prefer local government officials that are not of the majority party in parliament?

2) Will accepting this rule perpetuate the present polarisation between two irreconciliable parties?


  • Polling in by-elections to Parliament and local authorities must take place within ninety days after the vacancies occurred unless the vacancies occur within nine months before a general election is due to be held, in which event the vacancies may remain unfilled until the general election

This just applies the same rules on filling seats that fall empty, by death or othewise, to parliamentary, local council elections and elections to any other elected official body.

Post published in: Featured

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *