OPPOSITION Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s conviction in the landmark treason trial will not necessarily stop him from standing in future elections as widely f
University of Zimbabwe law lecturer Lovemore Madhuku said the ruling, set for October 15, would only have a political impact on Tsvangirai’s tenure at the helm of the MDC. It would not bar him from contesting elections except if he were convicted and served a prison term of more than six months.
“If Tsvangirai is convicted that will not necessarily bar him from contesting for political office except for the time when he is serving that sentence which has to be more than six months,” Madhuku said.
“In theory a person who is convicted and sentenced to less than six months can stand for election. Zimbabwe does not generally impose a blanket ban against people with criminal records. However, for public positions someone with a criminal record cannot be appointed within five years of that conviction.”
In terms of chapter IV of the constitution, section 28, subsection (1), a person qualifies for election as president if he is “a citizen by birth or by descent, has attained 40 years and is ordinarily resident in Zimbabwe”.
“You don’t even need to be a registered voter to stand in an election to be president. That is the constitutional position,” Madhuku said. “It’s different from when you are standing in an election to be an MP because you should not have a criminal record and must be a registered voter.”
There have been widespread fears that the ruling Zanu PF wants to see Tsvangirai behind bars to stop him from running for the office of president in 2008. But Madhuku said a conviction would not necessarily prohibit him from standing.
Tsvangirai was arraigned in February last year for allegedly plotting to kill President Robert Mugabe ahead of the hotly disputed 2002 presidential election.
The allegations, firstmade public by an Australian television ch-annel, were officially confirmed by controversial Canadian publicist Ari Ben-Menashe in February 2002, a month before the presidential poll.
The state case hinged on a fuzzy videotape and an unintelligible audio tape in which Tsvangirai was allegedly caught discussing Mugabe’s “elimination” at a meeting with Ben-Menashe in Montreal, Canada, in December 2001.
Madhuku said the ruling would have a political impact as it would either strengthen or weaken Tsvangirai’s position in the MDC. There are fears that Tsvangirai’s conviction could create divisions that might weaken the party.
If Tsvangirai is convicted, Madhuku said, that would leave him exposed to a possible internal challenge for power by his lieutenants who might think that he had become an electoral liability. However, if he is acquitted, he was likely to become stronger because his reputation would remain intact, and even become case-hardened, he said.