Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa finally filed his court challenge against President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s hotly-disputed victory in the July 30 election yesterday — thereby suspending tomorrow’s planned inauguration of Zimbabwe’s new leader.
In essence, Chamisa is seeking to either have the presidential election declared as null and void or to be affirmed as the rightful winner of that poll. Alternatively, the MDC Alliance leader wants a fresh presidential race to be held.
Meanwhile, Mnangagwa — who is said to have assembled as big and as impressive a legal team as Chamisa has done to defend his contested victory, has three days to respond to this court challenge.
In an interview on Wednesday, Zanu-PF Secretary for Finance Patrick Chinamasa confirmed the setting up of the 12-member legal team, saying the MDC Alliance's threat of litigation was unwarranted.
"Zanu-PF has assembled a 12-member legal team to prepare responses to the unwarranted litigation being threatened by the MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa challenging the validity of the Presidential vote," said Chinamasa.
The legal team include Zanu-PF Secretary for Legal Affairs, Paul Mangwana, himself a veteran lawyer just like Chinamasa.
"Zanu-PF will defend the will of the Zimbabwean people as expressed through free, fair, transparent and credible elections that took place on 30 July," said Chinamasa.
The court case comes after Zimbabwe held its first ever post-independence elections without former leader Robert Mugabe — who resigned from office in November last year on the back of a military intervention.
However, the crunch elections were marred by the yet-to-be tested allegations of ballot cheating, culminating in Chamisa‘s Constitutional Court (ConCourt) petition.
“We have a bundle of evidence that deals with the matter that we have filed at the courts.
“We are seeking a declaration to the effect that the election was not properly conducted, that it was not conducted in terms of the Constitution and that it was not conducted in terms of the Electoral Act.
“It was not conducted in terms of the standards of fairness and transparency,” Chamisa’s lead lawyer Thabani Mpofu told journalists yesterday.
“Consequently, we also seek a declaration to the effect that the announcement by Zec (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) chairperson Priscilla Chigumba declaring Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa as the president of Zimbabwe is null and void and that it should be set aside on the basis of evidence that has been placed before the court.
“In the main we seek that the court declare that my client is the proper winner or alternatively that they be another election that complies with the rules governing free and fair elections,” he added.
In the disputed presidential vote, Mnangagwa narrowly avoided a run-off after polling 50,8 percent of the ballot against Chamisa’s 44,3 percent.
Yesterday’s ConCourt challenge by Chamisa means that plans to swear-in Mnangagwa tomorrow will be put on hold until the highest court in the land finalises the case.
At law, a losing presidential candidate has seven days to challenge results, with the ConCourt obliged to make its findings and to deliver a verdict within 14 days after that.
If the ConCourt upholds the election result, Mnangagwa must then be sworn in within 48 hours of the court’s decision.
In determining the petition or application, the ConCourt may declare a winner or invalidate the election — in which case a fresh election will have to be held within 60 days after the determination.
“There is no inauguration … it will not take place. I have faith in the judiciary. Look, some of us are court room animals, we live in the courts and whenever we think there is a case we will take it to court.
“The determination is up to the court and what we can do is to bring the case to the court and it is for the court to make a determination and for us to argue the case,” Mpofu said.
“I have never felt this much pressure, but I am ready to defend the 16 million people in Zimbabwe. I am ready to defend the over two million people who voted for my client,” he added.
Millions of Zimbabweans cast their vote in the historic July 30 elections, to choose both a new Parliament and president — following the dramatic fall from power of Mugabe last November.
The elections were the first since 1980 to be held in the country without Mugabe’s participation, whose 37-year, iron-fisted rule was stunningly ended by a military operation which triggered events that ended with his resignation.
The elections also marked the first time that the main opposition MDC was not represented by its founding leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who lost his brave battle with cancer of the colon on Valentine’s Day this year.
Zanu PF retained its two thirds parliamentary majority in last month’s elections, with Mnangagwa winning a tightly contested race by 50,8 percentage points.
But the peaceful campaigns and a camaraderie spirit that had characterised the run-up to the elections were sullied in the aftermath of the elections when deadly violence broke out in Harare’s central business district (CBD), following a clash between opposition supporters and security agents.
Seven people subsequently died when the army, which had apparently been called in to assist in managing the situation, used live ammunition to break the ugly protests.
Political analysts have said the violence and clampdown of opposition leaders might have done a lot of harm to Mnangagwa’s quests to mend years of frosty relations with Western governments.
They said Mnangagwa had done enough ahead of the polls to project himself and his administration as different from Mugabe — who was accused of running Zimbabwe into the ground.
On Wednesday, United States President Donald Trump extended sanctions on Zimbabwe in the aftermath of the poll dispute and the damaging allegations of human rights violations.
This followed the treatment that MDC Alliance officials received, including opposition kingpin Tendai Biti who was manhandled at the Chirundu Border post while trying to seek political asylum in neighbouring Zambia on Tuesday.
Biti was later handed back to Zimbabwean authorities by the Zambians, and has since appeared in court where he was granted $5 000 bail.
He appeared in court yesterday to challenge both his arrest and the charges of public violence and flouting the Electoral Act that he is facing.