Zimbabwe: Poll Petition - Court Should Be Allowed to Play Its Role

South African legal heavyweights Dali Mpofu and Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, left. Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa and President Emmerson Mnangagwa, right (file photo).
21 August 2018
opinion

The die has been cast and the date has been set for the Constitutional Court case in which the MDC-Alliance leader and presidential election candidate, Nelson Chamisa, is contesting the outcome of the July 30 election which President Mnangagwa won.

As the appointed court date, August 22 approaches, the social media has witnessed a flurry of activity as netizens, mostly from the opposition camp, seek to influence the outcome of the petition through various means.

Fake news

One of the items in the netizens' arsenal is the use of false Twitter accounts purported to belong to some of the parties involved in the case, such as President Mnangagwa and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) chairperson Justice Chigumba.

Late last week, that group of people created and posted a fictitious tweet in the name of the President, purportedly claiming that he conceded defeat to Chamisa.

The creators of the message gave the blatantly false impression that the President had tweeted that; "I graciously concede defeat and wish Nelson Chamisa all the best. Let's build Zimbabwe together."

The same group of rogue citizens took aim at the elections referee Justice Chigumba for whom they created a non-existent account and posted a message about her wishing for a rest after the busy election season.

They even sought to extend the non-existent Chigumba-Chitando affair narrative, which the disgruntled former Sunday Mail editor Edmund Kudzayi created just before the polls to besmirch the respected judge by attaching to the phantom post sexual innuendos.

Speculation

The court case has also generated a lot of speculation as Zimbabweans try to guess how the Constitutional Court will rule on the matter.

Some are already envisaging a run-off, while others are foreseeing a Chamisa double loss of both the electoral and court contests, paving the way for President Mnangagwa's inauguration.

Some are talking of the nullification of the result for a fresh poll. Yet others were claiming that the two would sit down before Wednesday and possibly agree on Chamisa taking up the office of the official opposition so that the country can move forward.

The Kenyan connection

The MDC-T Chamisa faction has always looked up to the Kenyan opposition figure Raila Odinga for positive and negative inspiration despite his renowned and monumental failure over the years. When news broke that the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) would dispatch a delegation to observe the case, the opposition community was sent into frenzied speculation and excitement.

Various social media platforms were awash with sentiments of people who were already linking the decision with the judgment of the Kenyan Chief Justice, David Maraga, who in September last year nullified that country's presidential election results and called for a fresh poll. Their basis was that Maraga's decision was made in the presence of an observing ICJ team.

Despite the stark differences in the circumstances of the two cases, the opposition is fervently praying and hoping for its own Zimbabwean Maraga moment this week.

Although Odinga won the case, he unleashed an orgy of mindless political violence on innocent Kenyans in the same way that Chamisa and his followers rendered Harare hell on August 1 this year to protest against ZEC even before all the election results had been announced. Odinga's aide Silas Jakakimba visited Zimbabwe around the same time, leading to the Zimbabwean police announcing its interest to question Jakakimba over the violence.

Jakakimba denied any involvement, stating that: "When I left, Harare was normal, folks warm and welcoming, streets busy and skies clear-blue."

The opposition seems prepared to hobnob with merchants of violence all for the sake of power. It is prepared to entertain remote links of an ICJ presence with victory, forgetting that Kenya is not Zimbabwe.

False experts

The opposition has also been feeding the social media rumour mill with false audio clips in which an unidentified "expert", whom the opposition claims to be President Mnangagwa's defence counsel Advocate Lewis Uriri, claims despondently to have been thrown under the bus by ZEC over the latter's handling of vote figures.

The faceless "expert" gives an impression of hopelessness in winning the case on the part of the President in order to spite and sow despondency among his supporters.

As if refusing to be outdone, the so-called prophets are also seizing the opportunity to enhance their profiles by throwing in their own speculations couched as prophecies to support their favourite politicians in the matter.

As is to be expected, some of the seers are foretelling a President Mnangagwa winning confirmation, while their other counterparts are prophesying a Chamisa legal victory.

These various initiatives are set to end on Wednesday as the Constitutional Court delivers its verdict.

While, as a constitutional democracy, people are within their rights to voice their opinions and even speculation, they should do so within the confines of the law. The opposition cries the loudest when it comes to the need to observe the rule of law. It should lead by example when it comes to observing the same even when contesting an election result.

The opposition should know that the prerogative of ruling on the matter lies with the Zimbabwean Constitutional Court and not the social media or the ICJ. Whether or not the Maraga precedent applies here should be left to the court to decide.

Any unorthodox shenanigans to tarnish Justice Chigumba's image will not in any way influence the court's decision.

Put differently, the opposition and opposition-inclined members of the public should give the Constitutional Court its space, place and role to enable it to discharge its mandate without fear or favour. They should also be prepared to embrace its verdict - which is the rule of law at play. What is good for the goose should be good for the gander. As has become the norm with the opposition, a ruling should only be adjudged to be fair when it is in its favour.

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