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Zimbabwe court throws out election-rigging case

Tuesday - 8/20/2013, 12:21pm  ET

Opposition Movement For Democtratic Change (MDC) spokesperson Dougals Mwonzora talks to the media after they were summoned to the Constitutional Court in Harare, Monday, Aug.19, 2013. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai who lost to President elect, Robert Mugabe in recent elections has withdrawn his legal challenge to the July 31 vote, but Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court on Monday heard demands by Mugabe’s attorneys for a hearing to go ahead anyway, apparently reflecting the president’s confidence. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

GILLIAN GOTORA
Associated Press

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) -- Zimbabwe's highest court on Tuesday threw out a legal challenge that alleged the July 31 elections won by President Robert Mugabe were marred by fraud.

Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku, head of the Constitutional Court, dismissed the challenge from Zimbabwe's main opposition party and said the court found that the elections had been free and fair.

The ruling clears the way for Mugabe's inauguration on Thursday.

Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980, appoints the nation's judges and they have frequently ruled in his favor in the past decade of political and economic turmoil.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai had sought to withdraw his legal challenge, saying the state refused to hand over polling data that he needed as evidence. But the court considered the challenge anyway.

Tsvangirai is the outgoing prime minister in a shaky coalition with Mugabe forged by regional mediators after the last violent and disputed elections in 2008.

In the July presidential vote Mugabe garnered a commanding 61 percent victory to Tsvangirai's 34 percent.

Tsvangirai alleged up to a million eligible voters of the 6.4 million registered electors were unable to cast their ballots.

In a separate ruling made available Tuesday, the lower Electoral Court dismissed Tsvangirai's demands for poll data saying the application was not filed in reasonable time to allow for the opening of more than 9,000 ballot boxes countrywide and to collate other details.

Tsvangirai argued the voters' lists were not made available to candidates even before July 31 as required under voting laws and official tallies were flawed.

Electoral Court Judge Chinembiri Bhunu in his ruling called for the attorney-general, the nation's chief law officer, to investigate and possibly charge Tsvangirai and his lawyers for remarks about the impartiality of the judiciary that he said amounted to contempt of court, offences that can lead to a penalty of detention or a fine.

Tsvangirai had complained that judgment on the release of election material was being deliberately delayed by the judicial system loyal to Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.

Bhunu said in the Tuesday ruling after his court sat Aug. 14 that Tsvangirai had made an "unwarranted attack on the integrity and dignity of this court and the entire judiciary of this country."

"His conduct in this regard is symptomatic of an unbalanced and convoluted mindset unbefitting a man of his stature," Bhunu said.

Even if Tsvangirai professed ignorance of the law, but "the same cannot be said of his lawyers."

Bhunu said Tsvangirai's party is being ordered to pay all the litigation costs at a higher level than normal because of its "gross conduct in soiling the dignity and integrity of this court."

In the main vote-rigging challenge, Chidyausiku said the election was held in accordance with electoral and constitutional laws in Zimbabwe.

Dismissing Tsvangirai's case, he said: "Robert Mugabe is duly elected the president of Zimbabwe."

Tsvangirai's chief party spokesman Douglas Mwonzora said the party was not surprised by Chidyausiku's ruling.

"It was predetermined. We don't recognize this election and we will continue fighting for justice in this country," Mwonzora said.


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