HARARE – Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday began to hear an opposition petition seeking to overturn the presidential election result, in a legal challenge seen as unlikely to succeed despite allegations of vote fraud.
The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has accused the ruling Zanu-PF party and the election commission of rigging the July 30 vote, Zimbabwe’s first poll since the ousting of Robert Mugabe last year.
Chief Justice Luke Malaba opened the televised proceedings in Harare, where the court premises was surrounded by high security.
Mugabe’s successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, won the election with 50.8% of the vote – just enough to avoid a run-off against the MDC’s Nelson Chamisa, who scored 44.3%.
“It’s D-Day for us. Our team is ready. We have got all the evidence to prove in court that our position is correct – our party won the elections,” MDC national chairperson Morgan Komichi told reporters outside the courtroom.
Mnangagwa, who has vowed to turn around Zimbabwe’s ruined economy, had hoped the elections would draw a line under Mugabe’s repressive 37-year rule.
Campaigning was more open than previous votes, but the election was marred by the army opening fire on protesters, killing six, allegations of vote-rigging and a crackdown on opposition activists.
“I won the court case before it began,” Mnangagwa said on the sidelines of a regional summit in Namibia at the weekend. “It’s declared free and fair… why would I ever think that I will lose?”
Senior Zanu-PF legal representative Patrick Chinamasa ridiculed the MDC’s legal bid.
“Just as you cannot give life to a dead horse, even the best lawyers in the world cannot give life to a hopeless case,” he said in a statement.
“To those who voted for Chamisa, I ask you to gracefully accept defeat so that the country can move on.”
The MDC has said it was denied victory by “mammoth theft and fraud”, citing a catalogue of irregularities and discrepancies including incorrect counting and at some polling stations more ballots were counted than there were registered voters.
The court, presided over by nine judges wearing wigs, was expected to deliver a ruling by Friday.
Derek Matyszak, a legal expert at the University of Zimbabwe, said the opposition faced an uphill struggle given the courts’ historic tilt towards Zanu-PF, which has ruled since independence from British colonial rule in 1980.
“The outcome is pretty predictable,” Matyszak told AFP. “There is absolutely no chance of the election results being overturned.
“The judiciary (is) perceived to be partisan. Once the ruling is made, Chamisa will accuse it of bias and try to make political capital out of it.”
The MDC’s appeal, which was lodged hours before the deadline on August 10, has already forced Mnangagwa’s inauguration – planned for August 12 – to be postponed.
International monitors largely praised the conduct of the election itself, although EU observers said that Mnangagwa, a former long-time Mugabe ally, benefited from an “un-level playing field”.
The court could declare a winner, call another election, or order a run-off or recount.
The inauguration should take place within 48 hours of the court’s ruling, according to the constitution.