Controversy rocks divided Concourt

THE newly-formed Constitutional Court (Concourt), which Zanu PF was resisting until it was agreed that it would be packed with the current Supreme Court judges for seven years, was widely expected to safeguard people’s rights and freedoms, but started off on a controversial note after it ruled elections should be held by July 31.

Report by Brian Chitemba

The highest court in the land last Friday ruled President Robert Mugabe should proclaim election dates for polls to be held before the end of July.

Seven judges ruled in favour of the July 31 poll deadline, while Deputy Chief Justice Luke Malaba and Justice Bharat Patel handed down dissenting opinions, saying the majority was wrong in its ruling as the old constitution, which together with the new one will be used to hold the next elections during the transitional period, allows for the polls to be held within four months after the dissolution of parliament either by the president before its tenure ends or automatically when it expires.

The Concourt, led by Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku, made the judgment after Centre for Election Democracy in Southern Africa director Jealousy Mawarire filed an application demanding elections and arguing delays in proclaiming poll dates violated his constitutional rights.

Mawarire argued elections should be held four months before parliament is dissolved and the court agreed with him, sparking a fierce debate as legal and constitutional experts said the ruling it was blatantly wrong.

Given the resultant uproar, the judgment, widely criticised and condemned by major political parties except Zanu PF, is likely to put the court under pressure and in the spotlight in future cases.

On Wednesday, MDC-T, MDC, Zapu, Zanu Ndonga and Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn, in a rare show of solidarity, agreed to push Sadc to stop Mugabe from proclaiming election dates before full implementation of electoral and democratic reforms.

The Concourt will be under immense pressure and close scrutiny when it deals with more likely polls-related applications which have a bearing on the election process.

The court is currently faced with an urgent application by South African-based businessman Mutumwa Mawere to stop the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission from conducting the voter registration exercise until the issue of citizenship status of Zimbabwean-born persons who are holders of foreign citizenship by registration is clarified.

There are also indications Zanu PF linked groups will make court applications to force the mandatory 30-day voter registration to run concurrently with related processes to shorten the electoral process.

The Concourt is the highest court in all constitutional matters, and its decisions bind all other courts and it determines whether parliament or the president has failed to fulfil a constitutional obligation.