Has there been a judicial coup?

HARARE - Zimbabwe's High and Supreme Courts have delivered a series of strange judgments in this election cycle dismissing opposition and civil society suits seeking to have the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) act within its legal and administrative powers to enhance the credibility and legitimacy of today’s election.

From the ruling by the High Court that the November military-assisted takeover that ousted Robert Mugabe was legal, the courts have dismissed a series of legal challenges to electoral manipulation and the apparent disgraceful failings of the beleaguered Zec in a plethora of controversial judicial decisions.

It’s as if the judiciary is lending support to invisible forces.

This tragic situation is now manifesting in a statement issued by a conglomeration of civil society groups two days before the election, questioning the integrity of the final voters’ roll based on doubt as to whether Zec conducted a full de-duplication of the entire voters’ roll, creating the risk of multiple voting and people voting with fake IDs.

This comes after the High Court last Tuesday delivered a strange ruling backing Zec’s refusal to issue a voters’ roll with photographs to political parties or any member of the public, and even suggested the electoral body cannot be compelled to do otherwise.

Many would have expected the courts to take a dim view at anything that points to possible manipulation of the voter register and undermining a genuine democratic process given that there are multiple anomalies that need explanation.

Just after that ruling, the Supreme Court also upheld Zanu PF’s appeal in the relief granted to Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe to stop schoolchildren and teachers from attending Zanu PF rallies, and using school property for political purposes.

Many believe that dismissing such a matter on a technicality reflected the court’s disregard for the substantive concerns under consideration.

It’s the same courts that upheld the ban on the Diaspora from voting, yet the Constitution explicitly grants franchise rights to every Zimbabwean.

Zec chairperson Priscilla Chigumba has been dragged to court ad infitium in this election cycle, and every time the courts found no merit in all the arguments lodged, not one!

Zimbabwean courts used to command high respect worldwide both for the quality of their jurisprudence and defence of their independence from the executive.

But in the wake of the soft coup, the courts seem to have failed to deliver courageous and exemplary judgments when it comes to matters with an election theme.

It’s as if there has been a “coup” against the judiciary, which has allowed this statutory lawlessness to prevail in election matters.

It would be a sad state of affairs if there has been a coup on the structure of one of the most important bodies of the state.

The judiciary must never give constitutional support to usurpers and must avoid becoming a party on the power chessboard.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has dismissed opposition complaints on the murky operations of Zec saying those contesting the legality of the commission’s legal and administrative decisions must approach the courts to litigate their claim.

For the opposition to have faith in the courts, they must clearly demonstrate their ability to intervene for the protection of aggrieved parties and civil society groups in election-related matters.

Mnangagwa’s main challenger Nelson Chamisa seems to have lost the confidence, leading him to say “I am not going to court, I am not that dull. We will go to the people; we will go to the court of public opinion.”

Chamisa has actually expressed his frustration over the series of adverse court rulings with the exhortation that “our courts must be sanctuaries of justice, must be citadels of justice.”

“It is very important for our courts to be independent; they must not be an extension of any political party.”

There is now potential for post-election unrest over these festering election grievances after judicial interventions were seen as unduly doing the bidding for one party to the election.

Many Zimbabweans see the judiciary as the last democratic bastion in a mostly rotten republic.

It must not squander that goodwill.

Comments (1)

Which lawyer is the author of this article ? A layman is questioning the judgement of the courts simply because it did not go your way . All judgements that go against you mean the judiciary is wrong to you . Chamisa is a lawyer and should understand law better and` not take th`e law into his own hands . No wonder why Eddie cross says Chamisa is still a political novice .

Hayibo - 31 July 2018

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