This is a follow up on my first challenge whose thread is the recently held elections in my native nation of Zimbabwe.
The days that followed the announcement which declared the ruling party (Zanu-pf) the winner of the 2018 election, thereby making its leader E.D. Mnangagwa the president of the Zimbabwe left those who had voted for the opposition mainly urbanites and young in a state of “deep depression” because the margin with which the ruling party won was very small. The ruling party had only passed the threshold of avoiding a re-run of election by 0.8 percent. The loss of six people who were killed after the announcement by the army added to the depression.
For a moment all those disillusioned masses of people lost all hope of what could have been a turning point for our nation. The opposition alliance presidential candidate then challenged the validity of the election by lodging a petition to the Constitutional Court which is the highest court in the land and whose decision can not be appealed, this gave the people a flicker of hope.
I am not a lawyer but because the elections were very important to me and my fellow Zimbabweans we all wanted to know what it meant to lodge a petition. The process is very technical but what I understood as what was going to happen according to the constitution of Zimbabwe is that the law governing challenges to the presidential election is provided for under section 93 of the constitution, so it was withing the law to challenge an election.
This provision states that the aggrieved party may, within seven days after the DECLARATION of election result challenge the result of a presidential election at the Constitutional court. (Con Court in short) What this means without me going into the technical details of the law is simply that the ConCourt is required to hear and determine the matter within a period of 14th days after the petition is lodged.
Once the petition was lodged it meant the inauguration of the president elect that the ruling party had already started planning had to be put on halt. That was welcome news as it clearly showed that the justice system was accessible to seek redress. This is the first time it has happened considering most of the elections in the 38 years had been manipulated.
Up until now people including myself had not taken an interest as to how our justice system works but because there is some suspicion that elections had been stolen in the past, the petition motivated me and many others to want to understand. For me it was a need I have always had to know how independent our justice system is. In an era where bribes and corruption rule the day. There have always been a degree of suspicion when it comes to how the ruling party goes about doing things. Bribes have come in all disguises like promotion for those who judge in favour of the ruling party and forced retirement for those who resisted being influenced by the ruling party.
For me this election petition to the concourt became a test case, I followed the proceedings with keen interest to discover whether the learned judges were to prove they are professionals who would not allow any influence from any quarter to cause them to deter them from doing what is right and just. The judges were also going to prove to the nation that they uphold the ethos of their profession to deliver JUSTICE with out fear or favour for every one whatever your background as we want to believe that we are all equal before the law.
The constitutional court was held on the 14th of August , their responsibility after having heard the petition was to:-
a) to declare a winner because of the ultimate power it has as the highest court in the land. This why the question of independence of the judiciary is significant.
b) to invalidate the election, which would give those challenging a new and equal opportunity
c) may make “any order as it considers just and appropriate” this third responsibility can be good or bad. However it would allow itself a leeway to come up with a solution to what is a difficult problem
Any of the the above outcomes were what I was expecting to emerge from the process. I was glued on my mobile phone for the hearing, the people at the centre of the hearing were (i) the opposition presidential candidate (ii) Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) who ran the election and (iii) the ruling party who were declared the winner. The point the opposition was arguing were the figures which had been announced which were not corresponding with the figures candidates and their polling agents had. In some cases the numbers of votes cast in particular constituencies exceeded the number of registered voters in those constituencies. This was made worse when ZEC declared the ruling party candidate winner in one constituency when in actual fact it had been an opposition candidate who had won. ZEC acknowledged its mistakes and it declared the opposition candidate the winner. It was incidents like this one which increased suspicion that the results had been manipulated.
What surprised me was to hear the chairman of the concourt playing down the point of figures as not enough evidence of challenging the legitimacy of the election. Even to an ordinary person like me without any legal background understands how important figures are in an election. The chairman insisted that the court did not believe in figures but facts, in an election figures are the facts. It was at this point I began to realize that the bench was not free from the influence of the ruling party, it was reflected in the way they delivered the ruling. It seemed the bench itself was not convinced with their own ruling it looked as though they were acting on some external instructions that is what one saw as we watched on the television.
I mentioned earlier that the election petition for me was not only about hearing the grievances but it was also about the judiciary needing to prove that it was free from the influence of the ruling party. As I listened to the proceeding it was clear that the way the bench dealt with the petition was not just. The lawyer who was representing the opposition candidate was grilled with questions by the bench as if he had committed a crime yet all he was doing was represent his client. Yet on the other hand it looked like the bench did not have any questions for the lawyer who was representing ZEC yet there were a lot of questions which the opposition candidate needed to be addressed and yet the bench did not even raise questions. That action alone increased the suspicion about the independence of the judiciary.
The performance of the bench during the concourt did convince me that it was not free from the ruling party’s manipulation instead and made me realize how most of the key public institution are trapped by the ruling party. The professionals who are in these key positions want to keep their jobs as the appointments are made by the government so it may be that they would deal with what ever is brought before them in the way that the ruling party want them to. It is on record that judges in the past who did not tow the line in the past 38 years were either retired or forced to retire that is how the party operates which is another form of bribery.
All that I had expected to happen at the concourt did not happen living me wondering how citizens would get fair hearing from a judiciary system which can easily be manipulated. What the concourt managed to do was show that it is not able to rescue but that it is prepared to sink with a system which is on a downward slope. The concourt used its power to DECLARE the ruling party the winner, that was final what was left was for the nation to accept that declaration. The opposition are holding on to the fact that the person who is now governing was declared but the person who was elected is not governing what justice is that.