HARARE, Zimbabwe — Legal experts in Zimbabwe said Friday that President Robert Mugabe's unilateral call for end of July polls is illegal and he could be forced to overturn it at an upcoming regional meeting scheduled Saturday.
Veritas, an independent legal research group, said President Robert Mugabe has no power under the country's constitution to call for elections without the approval of the cabinet of government ministers.
"In issuing an election proclamation, the president is obliged to act on the advice of cabinet. Quite obviously he did not do so. On that ground alone, the proclamation is legally void," the group said in a statement.
Mugabe is in a coalition government with former opposition leader Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai brokered by regional leaders after violent and disputed elections in 2008.
He has set July 31 for the national vote arguing he is obeying a May court ruling after a private lawsuit brought against him demanded early polls.
The legal group said Mugabe can only act on his own if he wants to dissolve parliament, but in this case he has allowed parliament to run until June 28, when it should expire after its current five-year term.
Tsvangirai claims Mugabe needs his consent on when to hold elections under the power-sharing deal.
Veritas said Mugabe has created a political crisis in unilaterally calling for polls. It said once Mugabe has set an election date, amendments to electoral laws that critics say have led to vote-rigging in the past cannot be made as proposed in the nation's new constitution, overwhelming accepted in a March referendum.
Mugabe invoked special presidential powers earlier Thursday to by-pass parliament and fast-track changes to electoral laws a few hours before his notice announcing an election date.
But Veritas said the amendments to the electoral laws that Mugabe would have made are superseded by the election notice rendering them invalid.
"So whatever deficiencies there may be in the amendments .the election will have to be held in accordance with them," it said.
Tsvangirai, Mugabe's partner in the coalition, has repeatedly demanded reforms in the loyalist police and military widely blamed for state-orchestrated violence in previous elections.
Mugabe has dismissed calls for reform in the partisan security sector.
This has raised fears among rights groups of a repeat of violence that marred the previous 2008 polls. Hundreds of Mugabe's opponents were killed and thousands were wounded.
In a statement, Amnesty International's Africa director Netsanet Belay said sweeping security laws used to arrest and intimidate people must be repealed before the elections.
"Whatever date is decided for the election, the government's absolute priority must be making sure the violence that erupted during the 2008 vote is not repeated," Belay said.
Veritas, the legal research group, said the regional body known as SADC may have to "exert sufficient pressure" on Mugabe to make him rescind his decision at the Saturday meeting in Maputo, Mozambique.