[JURIST] Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] on Thursday used a presidential decree to bypass parliament in order to make changes to electoral laws in compliance with the Constitutional Court's order to hold elections by July 31. The amended electoral laws [Reuters report] ensure that all political parties have access to the state broadcaster and that the results of elections will be posted outside polling centers, and the long-awaited poll date was officially set for July 31. However, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] promptly declared [Guardian report] Mugabe's action to be a "unilateral and flagrant breach of our constitution and the GPA [global political agreement]," which states that the president could only act in consultation with the prime minister in announcing election dates. Tsvangirai also alleges that Mugabe infringed on the voter-registration process, disenfranchising first-time voters and denying political parties and Zimbabweans the chance to inspect the much-criticized voters roll.
In May, Zimbabwe's Constitutional Court imposed [JURIST report] a July 31 election deadline and ordered Mugabe to announce a date soon. The order came just one week after Mugabe signed [JURIST report] the country's new constitution [text] into law. Mugabe, 89, has ruled Zimbabwe since its independence from the UK in 1980. After the country's disputed elections in 2008, Mugabe and his political rival Tsvangirai formed a coalition government and found a compromise to hold elections on the condition that a new constitution was enacted beforehand. Zimbabwe has been criticized for the state of its legislative and electoral environment. In a report [text, PDF] issued by Human Rights Watch [advocacy website], the organization said that the country must take adequate steps to ensure "credible, free and fair elections" in 2013.