A Supreme Court ruling yesterday overturning a lower court judgment which barred 12 Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) candidates from contesting in the August 23 polls has averted the creation of a potentially charged political environment ahead of the elections, experts said.
Ahead of the judgement, anger had swelled within CCC and neutrals, with many saying the ruling Zanu PF was manipulating systems to maintain its grip on power.
The 12 were disqualified for allegedly submitting nomination papers to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) late on June 21.
However, a Supreme Court bench, chaired by Justice Tendai Uchena overturned the High Court decision yesterday.
Following the judgement, legal experts told the Zimbabwe Independent that the ruling had opened up the political space for a fair contest.
Many in the legal fraternity saw the judgment as a major boost for CCC president Nelson Chamisa, who has long complained about the political playing field.
A disqualification for the 12 would have heaped pressure on Chamisa over his ‘strategic ambiguity’ which critics say was giving room for exploitation by a desperate Zanu PF.
The ruling is also seen as giving the impression that the judiciary was independent of political interference.
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“The CCC was firm that there would be no election without the 12 MPs as the incumbent Mnangagwa would have nullified the election,” legal expert Sharon Hofisi told the Zimbabwe Independent yesterday.
“Even if courts wanted to dismiss the appeal, Zanu PF would be the biggest loser, following allegations that it had 56 candidates who had also purportedly filed their nomination papers late,” Hofisi said.
In Bulawayo, some litigants had also started using the Zanu PF precedent to litigate against the ruling party and Zec.
“With the country currently having an administrative president because Mnangagwa is a presidential candidate, there was righteous self-restraint on the part of the courts. Even with allegations of loans to judges or captured courts, no one could be unclean in a manner that would have dealt a fatal blow to Zanu PF,” Hofisi added.
“Judicial intervention in electoral matters, like the case of the Bulawayo CCC 12 candidates, can set precedents for future litigations and influence political strategy against allegations of judicial dependence.
“Furthermore, in a politically charged environment like Zimbabwe, the actions of courts ripple through society, often sparking intense debates and triggering waves of reactions.
“The crystal political ball shows that the consequences of judicial decisions may extend beyond their immediate scope as we see them now. My conclusion is that as we gaze into the crystal political ball, we discern a future where the nexus of judicial legitimacy and political destiny remains intertwined,” Hofisi said.
He said the superior courts must uphold the principles of an independent judiciary, fostering a climate where their decisions withstand scrutiny and inspire public trust.
“Only then can we move forward towards a future where democracy thrives over kingdom or dynastic rumours, guided by the rule of law and the will of the people who are more sovereign than the presidency or courts?
“Their triumphant presence on the ballot for the elections exemplifies the profound connection between judicial legitimacy and political destiny. In light of the political context and the presidential candidacy of Mnangagwa, the court's cautious approach may have been a calculated move,” he said.
He added that the ruling also showcased the judiciary’s role as a protector of democracy, defending electoral rights and maintaining checks and balances essential for a flourishing nation.
“This effectively avoids an unnecessary electoral crisis that is exacerbated by threats of state influence, the capture of democratic institutions or individuals,” Hofisi said.
South African-based political analyst, Ricky Mukonza said the judgment was largely expected, given the evidence submitted by Zec.
“The question is why did this happen in the first place? I think the idea is to present various institutions that have a role in the running of elections as independent and each performing their responsibilities without undue influence,” Mukonza said.
“The courts are also being presented as performing their adjudicating role independent of any external influence. But it is common knowledge that all these institutions are not independent,” Mukonza said.
Masimba Mavaza, a United Kingdom-based legal expert and political analyst said the Supreme Court’s decision was crucial.
“It gives the candidates a fair opportunity to compete in the democratic exercise and to be beaten clean by Zanu PF,” Mavaza said.
“This, however, shows that CCC is only happy when the court rules in its favour. Zimbabwe has always abided by the fairness and transparency of the electoral process. The Supreme Court’s decision has provided a fresh perspective on the matter and put a sock in the mouth of the opposition and its handlers,” Mavaza said.