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Lawyer warns of looming constitutional crisis

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LEGAL expert Chris Mhike has warned of a looming constitutional crisis if President Robert Mugabe decides to extend the lifespan of the Executive beyond the three-month limit provided for in the Constitution.

Report by Senior Parliamentary Reporter

He said it would be illegal for vice-presidents, Cabinet ministers and their deputies to continue carrying out their Executive duties three months more after dissolution of Parliament.

Mhike told NewsDay last week that if elections are not held by October, it would also be illegal for Mugabe to appoint a Cabinet because his term of office would have lapsed.

His comments follow recent announcements by Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs minister Eric Matinenga that Parliament will be dissolved by June 29, the day when the Presidential term also expires.

Matinenga added that although the term of Parliament cannot be extended, the Presidential term can be extended by another three months, leading to October until a new government has been formed.

A few weeks ago, Mugabe indicated that he would dissolve Parliament soon, but might consider extending the lifespan of the Executive.

Mhike said: “The extension of the life of Parliament can only be done during times of war, and under those circumstances the extension should not be for more than one year at a time and the cumulative extensions should not exceed five years.

“Further, the law requires that vice-presidents, ministers and deputy ministers shall not occupy their Executive offices for more than three months without being Members of Parliament and there is a grace period of only up to three months for non-MP ministers to hold these positions.”

Mhike said while the President shall continue in office until the person elected as President in the next elections entered office, he cannot appoint a Cabinet after the three months grace period up to October.

“It must be made clear that beyond the dissolution of the current Parliament, the appointment of a ‘Cabinet’ by a ‘president’ whose term expired would be illegitimate,” he said.

Although Mugabe recently approached the High Court to secure an order to declare elections by or on June 29, lawyers say the election date can be between June 29 and October 29 depending on consensus by the players in the coalition government.

Two weeks ago, Deputy Justice and Legal Affairs minister Obert Gutu said although Parliament can be dissolved by June 29, government business should go on and so the terms of the Executive can be extended for three months until a new government has been formed.

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