MDC election challenge ruling deferred

Zimbabwe’s High Court this week concluded hearing a landmark opposition challenge to President Robert Mugabe’s victory in last year’s presidential election.

It was not immediately clear when Judge Ben Hlatshwayo would make his ruling in the case brought by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), but legal sources said it could take weeks, even months.

The judge said he needed time to digest the ”complicated submissions” and come to a conclusion in the matter. His ruling will determine whether there will be an election rerun or further legal action allowing evidence to be heard on the alleged electoral irregularities.

This week’s poll petition comes against a background of political and social strife and economic crisis in the Southern African nation ruled by Mugabe since he helped oust Ian Smith’s white minority government 23 years ago.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who brought the petition before the court, wants a rerun of the March 2002 poll, which was largely condemned by Western observer groups as marred by violence and vote-rigging.

But some African observer groups declared that the election had been free and fair.

In his response to the MDC petition, Mugabe’s lawyer Terence Hussein dismissed it, saying it lacked facts and was cluttered with too many other issues.

”It is inconceivable that the election of the president, the commander-in-chief [of the army] should be set side because three lawyers came before you and made legal arguments. That will be a monumental legal disaster,” said Hussein.

”The Electoral Act clearly envisages that the validity of an election to the office of president may only be determined at a trial,” he said.

Mugabe (79) clinched a fifth consecutive term in office when it was declared that he got 56,2% of the votes, against 41,9% for his opponent.

Tsvangirai’s lawyers argued that the Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC) had scuttled chances of a free and fair election because its members were appointed by Mugabe.

The opposition’s legal team further argued that the ESC was not ”validly constituted” because it had four instead of the five members stipulated by the law.

Tsvangirai mounted his challenge last year, just as crisis talks between his party and Mugabe’s Zanu-PF were starting.

The move angered the ruling party, which promptly pulled out of the talks aimed at resolving the problems created by the disputed elections.

Efforts have been made to get the two parties to resume dialogue, but Mugabe says he will not talk to the MDC unless it accepts him as the legitimate head of state. — Sapa-AFP

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Susan Njanji
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