The polling date of the next general election is the key date which determines when all the other electoral process must take place.
Election Polling Date
In normal circumstances the earliest date for polling is July 23rd and the last date for polling is August 21st.
The polling date is determined by what the Constitution says about the duration of Parliament.
- The maximum five-year term of the current Parliament ends at midnight on August 21st 2018.
- Section 158 states that a general election must be held so that polling takes place not more than thirty days before the expiry of the five-year term of Parliament, i.e. not before July 23rd.
- The last date for polling is based on Constitution section 144 which states that the last dates for polling must be before Parliament’s term ends, i.e. polling cannot be later than August 21st.
Gazetting of Presidential Proclamation of a General Election
The President still has the prerogative of deciding the exact date to proclaim elections but must allow the number of days fixed by the Constitution and the Electoral Act between proclamation and polling day.
The Proclamation calling an election must be not less than 44 and not more than 84 days before the polling day chosen [Constitution section 157(3) and section 38 of the Electoral Act]. This means:
- For a July 23rd election: the earliest date for proclamation is April 30th [84 days before polling day] and latest is June 9th [44 days before]
- For an August 21st election: the earliest date for proclamation is May 29th [84 days before] and the latest is July 8th [44 days before]
- For any polling date between July 23rd and August 21st calculate a minimum of 44 days and a maximum 84 days between proclamation and polling.
When the President has decided the polling day and proclamation day, the day for nomination can be fixed. Nomination day is the day on which candidates have to take their papers to a nomination court. There must be a minimum period of 14 days, and a maximum of 21days, from proclamation to nomination day [Constitution section 157(3) and Electoral Act section 38].[Note: There must be a minimum of 30 days from nomination date to polling date and a maximum of 63 days]
The Voters Roll
Ideally this should be ready before nomination day as candidates have to be nominated [i.e. endorsed] by registered voters who should have checked that their names on the voters roll – i.e. the new BVR roll.
The Electoral Act [section 21(4)] states that, within a reasonable period of time after the proclamation calling an election, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission [ ZEC] must provide political parties and observers on request with a copy of the voters roll to be used in the election.
The President Must Consult with ZEC
As ZEC must have the voters roll ready and all necessary steps in place for a free and fair election, the following proviso in the Constitution is important:
Section 144(3) of the Constitution lays down that the dates for the election must be fixed by the President “after consultation with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission”. Section 339(2) explains that this means ZEC must be afforded a reasonable opportunity to make recommendations or representations about proposed dates and that the President must give careful consideration to any such recommendations and representations, although he is not obliged to follow them. The need for this consultation with ZEC is repeated in section 38(1) of the Electoral Act.
Suggestions of an Early Election After Dissolution of Parliament.
The dissolution of Parliament will occur automatically in terms of section 143(1) of the Constitution, which provides as follows—
“Parliament stands dissolved at midnight on the day before the first polling day in the next general election called in terms of section 144”.
But although the Constitution no longer allows the President to dissolve Parliament at will and provides that normally Parliament should serve out its five-year term, Parliament does have the power to dissolve itself. [Section 143 of the Constitution]
To do this would require the passing, by a least two-thirds of the current members of the National Assembly and the Senate, sitting separately, of resolutions to dissolve Parliament [section 143(2)]
If Parliament were to do that the President must proclaim a general election to be held within 90 days of the resolution of dissolution. When the President proclaims the election in these circumstances he still has to observe the times fixed in the Constitution and the Electoral Act for the various steps in the electoral process – nomination and polling – to take place, and as noted above the whole process must take between 44 and 84 days.
So in theory, if this route were to be taken, the next general election could be earlier than July 23rd. If Parliament were to dissolve itself in the next couple of weeks, the election could be held as soon as the end of April or the beginning of May.
Again ZEC must be consulted [section 144(3) of the Constitution]. It is very doubtful if ZEC could have the voters roll ready so early.
And without an accurate voters roll the elections, whenever they are held, will not be credible or acceptable