Zimbabwe, already facing a presidential run-off, hit new electoral turmoil yesterday after the ruling party and opposition filed legal challenges against half of the parliamentary results from March’s polls.
State media said Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, which lost its majority for the first time in the March 29 election, was challenging the outcome in 53 of the 210 constituencies while the opposition was disputing 52.
The Herald newspaper, the government’s mouthpiece, said the volume of petitions filed with the electoral court had prompted the country’s chief justice to appoint 17 more judges there.
Given that the electoral court can take up to six months to rule on the petitions, the latest development is likely to increase a power vacuum at a time when the outcome of the presidential contest is still up in the air.
Master of the High Court Charles Nyatanga, effectively the chief legal administrator, was quoted in the Herald as saying his office had “received 105 petitions, which have to be determined within six months in terms of the Electoral Act.”
Nyatanga said lawyers handling the petitions had been invited for a meeting with judges tomorrow.
“All the lawyers who are dealing with election petitions [are invited] to attend the meeting where the procedure would be discussed,” he said.
The legislative election saw ZANU-PF lose its majority in parliament for the first time since the former British colony’s independence 28 years ago, with the MDC taking 109 seats against 97 for Mugabe’s party.
A partial recount was held last month after the results in 23 constituencies were challenged but the initial outcome was confirmed in each seat.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai also beat Mugabe in a simultaneous presidential elections but fell short of an overall majority needed to avoid a second round.
The electoral commission is yet to announce the date for a second round of the presidential elections, which Tsvangirai is threatening to boycott after insisting he passed the 50 percent threshold in the original ballot.
The electoral commission, which did not declare the results from the first round until last Friday, should in theory organize the run-off by May 24 but its chairman has dropped a strong hint that a further delay is in the cards.
“We are looking at our state of preparedness and only after that will we be able to say when we are ready and be able to set the polling date,” George Chiweshe said after a meeting of the body on Tuesday. “But if the 21 days are not enough we have powers to extend.”
Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change party has consistently accused the electoral commission of being biased towards Mugabe, believing the delays are designed to buy the presidency after his electoral reverse.
Mugabe himself has made no comment about his intentions regarding the run-off.
Although his party has said he intends to run again, many commentators believe he will not risk electoral humiliation after running the country ever since independence.