Zimbabwe court orders elections held by July 31


Zimbabweans turn out in their numbers to vote in the constitutional referendum in Harare on March 16, 2013. Polls opened in Zimbabwe early Saturday for a key referendum on a new constitution that would curb President Robert Mugabe's powers and pave the way for elections later in the year.

Zimbabwe's top court ordered on Friday that President Robert Mugabe hold elections in the African country by the end of July.

"The elections should take place no later than 31st July 2013," the court's Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku said.

The Constitutional Court said Mugabe should set a date "as soon as possible."

Chidyausiku was ruling on an application to the court by Zimbabwean rights activist Jealousy Mawarire, challenging Mugabe, 89, to set election dates by June 29, arguing that the president risked violating the constitution.

Zimbabwe's parliament will automatically expire on June 29, but Mugabe would have had until October 31 to hold presidential and parliamentary elections.

Held under a new constitution endorsed in a referendum in March, the elections will put an end to the power-sharing government of Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, formed in 2009 after a violence-plagued 2008 election that regional leaders said was rigged in Mugabe's favor.

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Mugabe, who has been in power since Zimbabwe gained its independence from Britain in 1980, is set to go up against Tsvangirai in the upcoming elections.

Tsvangirai has been arguing for a delay in new elections in order to allow for the opening of broadcast media, registration of new voters and reform of the military to ensure it stays out of politics.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti also said earlier this week that Zimbabwe is struggling to raise the $132 million required to hold elections.