PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe on Tuesday 02 October 2012 escaped liability to comply with a court order after Judge President Justice George Chiweshe granted an order allowing him more time to call for elections in Zimbabwe by 31 March 2013 rather than 1 October 2012 as dictated by the High Court recently.

Lawyers who represented President Mugabe pleaded that the coalition government was so impoverished that it could not hold by-elections in three Matebeleland constituencies and hence needed the by-elections to be subsumed into general elections which they hinted could be held in March 2013.

However, lawyers representing the three former Nkayi South, Bulilima East and Lupane East legislators opposed the application and argued that the High Court did not have jurisdiction to alter, vary or suspend a Supreme Court decision and even if the lower court had jurisdiction it could not revisit a final order and amend, alter or vary it as it was now functus officio (of no further official authority or legal efficacy).

The human rights lawyers Dzimbabwe Chimbga, Tawanda Zhuwarara and Jeremiah Bamu of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights argued that President Mugabe was asking for an incompetent order as by law by-elections and general elections cannot be held at the same time, according to Section 39 of the Electoral Act.

Chimbga, Zhuwarara and Bamu also argued that the way President Mugabe had approached the courts (as a repeat litigant) was tantamount to an abuse of process.

However, in an order granted late Tuesday afternoon, Justice Chiweshe allowed President Mugabe to fix dates for holding the three by-elections by 31 March 2013.

"The period within which to comply with the order granted in case No. SC 267/11 be and is hereby further extended to the 31st day of March 2013. There will be no order as to costs. My reasons will follow," reads part of Justice Chiweshe's order.

President Mugabe on Wednesday 26 September 2012 moved to evade contempt of court charges by begging the High Court for an extension of time allowing him to call for elections in Zimbabwe by 31 March 2013 rather than 1 October 2012.

The plea was the second such appeal inside one month after he first sought the High Court's indulgence to delay the gazetting of dates for by-elections in three Matebeleland constituencies in August citing the need to mobilise and ascertain the availability of financial resources to stage what he termed "a mini-general election" in all the vacant parliamentary and senatorial constituencies in the country including local authorities.

His plea to the High Court was triggered by a Supreme Court order which in July confirmed the lower court's order that the Zanu PF leader should call for by-elections in three Matebeleland constituencies by the end of August. President Mugabe had appealed against High Court judge, Justice Nicholas Ndou's decision in October 2011 ordering him to ensure by-elections for Nkayi South, Bulilima East and Lupane East were held, as they were constitutionally long overdue.

In the urgent chamber application filed by the Attorney General's Office last Wednesday, President Mugabe disclosed that he would not be able to comply with court orders compelling him to gazette dates for the by-elections by October 1, 2012 and would need a six month extension to do so.

President Mugabe's elections dilemma was inflicted on him by three former MDC legislators Abednico Bhebhe, Njabuliso Mguni and Norman Mpofu who in 2010 hauled him to the High Court after their parliamentary membership was terminated following their suspension and subsequent expulsion from the MDC party.

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