Zimbabwe’s courts flooded with legal disputes ahead of poll
Unprecedented run on Zimbabwe courts in run-up to elections, with 133 disputes having been filed
Election-related matters have been playing out in Zimbabwe's courts, with the main opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) filing legal challenges citing alleged discrepancies in the election process.
By Saturday, 133 disputes had been filed in the run-up to Wednesday's elections. They involve rules for the nomination of candidates, the release of the voters’ roll and printing of ballot papers.
On July 19, United Zimbabwe Alliance leader Elisabeth Valerio won her appeal against the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) decision to reject her nomination papers for late submission. Valerio is the country’s only woman presidential candidate.
On July 26, the high court dismissed with costs an application by opposition Labour Economists and African Democrats (LEAD) leader Linda Masarira challenging the ZEC’s rejection of her nomination papers. Masarira is no longer in the presidential race.
On July 27, the supreme court threw out independent candidate and former cabinet minister Saviour Kasukuwere’s appeal challenging the high court’s decision to bar him from contesting the presidential elections.
The same day, the Bulawayo high court ruled that 12 aspiring candidates for the National Assembly from CCC could not run because they filed their nomination papers late. In August, the Supreme Court overturned the ruling.
On July 28, the high court dismissed an appeal by CCC to bar 41 candidates who filed nomination papers under its name, saying there was nothing suspicious in the papers submitted to the nomination courts.
On August 13, the high court blocked CCC from obtaining the final voters’ roll and the list of polling stations. High court judge Never Katiyo ruled the matter as “not urgent”. Blocking the release of the final voters’ roll means the main opposition party will enter the poll without key information on the rolls and the list of polling stations.
On August 17, the CCC filed an urgent application through the electoral court seeking an order to compel ZEC to disclose details relating to the printing, distribution and serial numbers of ballot papers. According to the court documents, the ballots were printed without the main opposition knowing who printed them, how many ballots were printed and how they will be distributed.
Accusations of judicial capture by the opposition and civil society organisations have marred the election.
A petition in June by 18 local and regional civil society organisations (CSOs) petitioned President Emmerson Mnangagwa over judicial capture and pervasion of justice in Zimbabwe. The CSOs accused the country’s judiciary of weaponising the law against government critics.
“We, the undersigned CSOs, herein register our deep concerns against a growing trend of judicial persecution and the abuse of the legal system (lawfare) by Zimbabwean authorities to close the civic space and target human rights defenders (HRDs) and pro-democracy activists,” the petition read.
Musa Kika, a constitutional and human rights lawyer, told TimesLIVE that the country’s judicial system will need a complete overhaul.
“We are experiencing an unprecedented number of electoral cases before the courts in this election. We have never seen this before in Zimbabwe’s history with elections.
“The contestation has been taken to courts because we have failed to solve our electoral disputes in non-litigious ways and we don’t trust the electoral management body. As a result people are now taking cases to the courts, but it's problematic because we can’t trust our courts, based on their history. We know they have already have a side, which is the side of the incumbent.”
Kika said the opposition might have small victories but the big political and electoral questions would be decided in favour of Zanu-PF.
“Under the current government, it’s impossible to have a judiciary which is independent and functions according to the dictates of the law. We are going to need a judiciary overhaul,” said Kika.
Zimbabwean lawyer and opposition politician David Coltart told TimesLIVE the country’s justice system is under threat.
“We are concerned, not only by the judiciary, but by the entire justice system, which includes the police, prosecutorial system and the prisons. In the past few years we have seen serious prosecution brought against activists and opposition leaders initiated by the police who then work with the courts in denying bail,” said Coltart.
“The disparity has become even more obvious in the run-up to the elections because there have been numerous cases brought in the context of the election which have generally gone the way of Zanu-PF, not the opposition. It’s quite apparent by looking at all these court cases that there has been apparent bias by many judges.
“This indicates that the independence of our judiciary is under very serious threat and many in the legal profession are deeply concerned.”
The election has been tainted by reports of human rights violations, allegations of judiciary capture, political violence and arrests of opposition activists.
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