THE spotlight has landed early on the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) and courts of law well ahead of Zimbabwe’s general elections scheduled for 23 August 2023.
The elections will see as much of a fight in the ballot box as in the courts of law and among legal teams, if Zec’s candidate nomination court process is a guide.
The sitting of the nomination court, on 21 June 21, has hurriedly attracted in its wake at least four court applications, challenging the legality of proceedings or outcomes of the filing of party candidate lists.
This early resort to the courts to determine who will be or will not be a candidate itself highlights the high-stakes nature of the forthcoming elections.
The courts as the theatre of resolution of political conflict are set to be appraised depending on how the present cases will be handled and failings will likely be catastrophic for the elections.
As shown by the Zanu PF case seeking the removal of CCC National Assembly candidates in Bulawayo metropolitan province and the two cases challenging the candidacy of independent presidential candidate, Saviour Kasukuwere, political actors seem to be working hard to shut each other out from the ballot paper.
There is a perception with players such as Zanu PF that technicalities and restrictive interpretation of the law centred on the nomination court processes can be used to forestall competition in the elections.
For instance, the ruling party argues that the extension of the sitting of the nomination court to enable parties, which had not filed papers for their candidates, to do so on 22 June should be adjudged a material legal infraction and all its outcomes voided.
This stance conveniently ignores the fact that the 2023 elections are an administratively larger process than previous ones.
Having introduced additional lists and paperwork for local government quotas, and the women and youth quotas, the time allocated for the nomination process may have been insufficient.
If more parties had managed to field candidates than is the case, which scenario was probably averted by the unfair and exorbitant candidate nomination fees, this problem of time constraints could have been even much bigger.
Instead of cynically weaponising this time constraint, given the reality of more paperwork introduced by the local government seats and new quotas, a progressive attitude would have been to allow that the law be liberally interpreted as meant to enable rather than restrict constitutionally-guaranteed rights to participation.
Linked to that would be in future a suggestion that the law be amended to allow the nomination court to sit for more time or two days.
In light of the other court cases filed, especially by the CCC, another realisation is that Zec’s administrative frailties already threaten to significantly burden the courts with litigation.
In one court case, the CCC is challenging what appears to be a systematic planting of double candidates across its stronghold zone of Harare in what the party alleges was achieved through the forging of signatures.
An electoral commission which wants to be seen to be doing its work fairly would treat such allegations seriously, investigate and, as the situation demands, rectify by disqualifying the alleged fraudsters.
In another case, the CCC is challenging an anomalous situation in which it has not fielded its party list of 10 provincial council candidates for proportional representation in Bulawayo metropolitan province, its other stronghold.
The party cited administrative challenges, disappearance of its first list after a commotion ensued during submission, and refusal by Zec officials to replace its list, again on account of the 4pm deadline having lapsed.
The development is significant because it tilts the scale in favour of the ruling party in a traditionally opposition-controlled local government area on account of a contested administrative technicality without polling.
The significant developments of double candidates in Harare and the refusal of provincial council list in Bulawayo are all in the opposition’s strongholds, and materially affect outcomes.
They all centre on Zec’s administrative processes, in which the election management body is accused of acts of omission or commission.
Having been put into the spotlight so early in the election, the courts have an early obligation to prove their competence and impartiality, given that it is not idle imagination that they might be called to be arbiters, yet again, before the final outcome is worked out.
The same applies to Zec on whose conduct, administrative competence and decisions the credibility of the whole election process stands or crumbles.