Flurry of court cases casts shadow on August 23 polls

Mirriam Mangwaya

A string of court cases challenging processes leading to the August 23 elections has raised the spectre of Zimbabwe holding another disputed poll with President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s challengers complaining about an uneven playing field.

Mnangagwa (80) is seeking his second and last term in office after rising to power following a military coup that toppled the late Robert Mugabe in 2017.

He won a disputed election the following year when he narrowly beat the then 40 year-old opposition leader Nelson Chamisa of the MDC-Alliance.

Chamisa, who is now leading the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), has indicated that his party is not happy with the conditions the elections are being held under even though he is confident of victory.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) has once again attracted questions about its credibility after the electoral body raised lawsuits over the way it has been  handling the process from the delimitation of constituencies to the recent  nomination exercise.

Zec is a respondent in several court challenges where political parties are querying the whole June 21 nomination process.

Eleven presidential candidates, including Mnangagwa, managed to submit their nomination papers.

Some presidential aspirants are, however, not happy after their nomination papers were turned down over various reasons.

United Zimbabwe Alliance leader Elisabeth Valeiro filed a court challenge after her nomination papers were rejected.

Valerio is said to have failed to pay the required US$20 000 nomination fee for presidential candidates within the stipulated time frame.

Zec set the presidential nomination fee at US$20 000 or $138 million in local currency up from US$1 000 in 2018 while parliamentary nominees were required to pay US$1 000 up from US$50.

In her court challenge, Valerio argued that she provided proof of a bank transfer to the presiding officers, but her nomination papers were still rejected.

Opposition Lead leader Linda Masarira has also filed a court challenge over her failed bid to run for the presidency.

Masarira is also seeking the nullification of party lists for provincial councils and challenging the constitutionality of the statutory instrument (SI) that authorised them.

Before the SI, provincial councils’ nominations were guided by Section 268 of the constitution.

It stipulated that each province or metropolitan province must have a council where 10 women were to be elected to those positions under a proportional system.

SI 114 was gazetted on the eve of the sitting of the nomination court to allow both men and female candidates to be nominated for political party lists.

The Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe has also filed an urgent court application challenging the same SI.

CCC  has filed an appeal at the Electoral Court against the decision of the nomination court to accept the nomination forms from some candidates who had forged signatures.

In Bulawayo, 10 CCC members who were supposed to be on the provincial/metropolitan party list for council have filed an urgent court application accusing Zec of denying them a chance to submit their candidate nomination papers.

They want the High Court to reverse the subsequent election of Zanu PF provincial council candidates who stood unopposed.

MDC T had nomination papers for 80 of its aspiring MPs rejected after they failed to pay the US$1000 required for each candidate.

Zec had rejected payment using bank transfers.

A Zanu PF activist Lovedale Mangwana last week filed papers seeking an order declaring a decision by Zec to accept presidential aspirant Saviour Kasukuwere’s nomination papers null and void.

Mangwana says Kasukuwere’s candidature is in violation of section 91 of the constitution.

He argued that Kasukuwere ceased to be a registered voter because he had spent a continuous period of 18 months outside his constituency.

Kasukuwere fled the country during the 2017 coup after soldiers shot at his Harare home.

Zanu PF has also not been left behind after it announced plans to sue Zec.

The ruling party is seeking nullification of the candidature of 12 CCC Bulawayo parliamentary candidates whom it alleged filed nomination papers after the 4 pm deadline.

The  ruling party claimed the nomination was in violation of Section 46(7) and (8) of the Electoral Act.

Apart from a litany of court cases over the nomination process, electoral stakeholders have raised various complaints against the electoral body, questioning its credibility to run elections.

Elections Resource Centres legal and advocacy officer Takunda Tsunga said Zec could have avoided some of the litigation if it had managed the electoral process with diligence and adhered to the law.

“The widespread litigation the Commission faces is a testament to the lack of engagement and inclusiveness in our electoral process,” Tsunga said.

Before the nomination court sitting, opposition parties and independent election watchdogs were complaining against Zec for various electoral malpractices which included refusal to release the voters’ roll.

Data analysts Team Pachedu have been exposing serious anomalies on the voters’ roll, which include the alleged movement of thousands of voters from their constituencies and wards and the creation of additional polling stations under unclear circumstances.

“Engagement on all the issues before proclamation could have helped avoid  this unfortunate scenario where we are heading towards an election without a clear legislative framework,” Tsunga said.

“Section 46 (10) places the duty on the electoral commission to ensure that no party submits nomination papers that closely resemble the abbreviation of any other party.

“Additionally, in the case of double candidates, when submitting the paper, if the nomination officer has reason to believe that a candidate is not being sponsored by a political party, the officer must require the candidate to provide proof that he/she is being sponsored by the party.

“The Commission did not do this and failed to ensure that they took steps not to confuse the electorate.”

Stephen Chan, a professor of world politics based in the United Kingdom, said litigation against electoral bodies is common across the globe and Zimbabwe was no exception.

Chan, however, said Zec did not have enough time to battle out the legal cases as the election was only two months away.

“Many election bodies, like Zec, have faced huge questions of probity, transparency and efficiency,” Chan said.

“Having said that, Zec has indeed gotten off to a bad start with the elections less than two months away.

“There’s not much time to rectify mistakes whether wilful or genuine mistakes.

“I have always said that the best way of avoiding such doubt in an electoral body is to bring in a chair with a proven reputation for probity from another country.

“Professor [Attahiru Muhammadu] Jega, who ran two Nigerian elections, 2011 and 2015, to international acclaim, would be my own first choice.”

Constitutional law expert  James Tsabora said Zec has to put in place all the institutional, administrative and infrastructural enablers for a free, fair and credible electoral process.

“Zec had five years to prepare for each election and continues to learn with every by-election,” Tsabora said.

“Zec is a critical body in Zimbabwe’s democratic process and it has to get used to having all of its decisions or critical processes challenged in courts.

“It is a pity that it has to dedicate some of its very precious time to defending litigation.

“It is not a body made up of angels; it will make mistakes here and there but it must be able to address such mistakes without a lot of storms.”

Zec is, however, unfazed by the litany of court cases filed by the political parties.

“It’s the citizens exercising their right,” Zec deputy chairperson Simukai Rodney Kiwa told The Standard in an interview.

“We can’t stop them.

“They have a right to challenge anything.

“We have lawyers and to say the litigation will take our time is an uninformed opinion because we have lawyers, we continue with our work.

“Our lawyers will represent us very well.”

Malawi-based political scientist Wondeful Mukhutche said it was becoming clear that there was no trust in Zec.

“Too much litigation has a bearing on the whole electoral process,” Mukhutche said.

“The litigation shows a lack of trust in the political parties.

“Therefore, this translates into an election defined by mistrust and eventually the result. In the end, it destabilises a country’s democracy.”

University of Zimbabwe political science guru Eldred Masunungure said the high number of cases challenging the electoral process pointed to another disputed  poll.

Masunungure said Zec had the necessary expertise to run credible elections which was however being tainted by political interference.

“In southern Africa, Zec attracts the most contestation of any electoral management body in the region and this is reflective of the toxicity of Zimbabwe’s politics,” Masunungure said.

“This contestation is magnified in a watershed election like the upcoming one.

“Left on its own to enjoy its autonomy enshrined in the constitution as a Chapter 12 institution, I think Zec can deliver on its mandate.

“The problem is its historical burden of public mistrust, which it has not been able to shirk since its creation.

“Disputes that are currently unfolding are likely to continue up to, and beyond 23 August.”

Political analyst Rejoice Ngwenya said all court cases have to be treated fairly without bias

“All cases should be treated according to their merits,” Ngwenya said.

“The bottom line is the law should be applied accordingly and fairly in all cases that are brought before the courts.” – The Standard

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