Justice Makarau demoted upstairs

She lacked political antennae
rita_makarauHARARE Former Zimbabwe Judge President Rita Makarau was apparently kicked upstairs because she lacked the political antennae to save Zanu (PF) from the embarrassment of losing court cases against the MDC-T, a political think-tank said this week.

Makarau was promoted to the Supreme Court in a controversial shake-up of Zimbabwes judiciary by President Robert Mugabe last week. She was replaced as Judge President by former Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) chairman George Chiweshe, a former army officer whose controversial term as head of ZEC saw stoked up tensions within the

countrys political establishment.

London-based think-tank Africa Confidential said Makarau apparently disappointed Mugabe and other Zanu (PF) bigwigs through her failure to allocate cases to judges sympathetic to the party. The Presidents Office thinks Makarau lacks the political antennae to match sensitive cases to accommodating judges, said Africa Confidential. Over the past decade, the bench has been effectively packed with judges compromised by offers of farms.

While the courts have from time to time ruled against Zanu (PF) interests, they have in the majority of cases related to elections or the troublesome land issue passed judgments that have largely favoured the perceived position of Mugabe and his party. Chiweshe, who was chairman of a previous discredited electoral commission, is deeply unpopular with Mugabes opponents after holding onto election results for five weeks in the watershed March 2008 vote, which saw Mugabe trail Morgan Tsvangirai in the first round of voting.

The 86-year-old went on to win the run-off, which MDC-T leader Tsvangirai boycotted citing massive violence against his supporters. Analysts say Chiweshes new job is strategic in the context of future elections as he will single-handedly pick judges from the High Court bench to sit on the Electoral Court to preside over all election related disputes. The new Judge President was a High Court judge before being deployed to chair the now defunct electoral commission.

Zimbabwes elections have for the past decade been marred by violence, human rights abuses and allegations of rigging, with the courts stepping in to decide on disputes. The southern African country has always had troubled elections since

2000, with disputes spilling into the courts, but this has rarely changed the outcome, with some Supreme Court judgments being delivered when the life of a parliament has expired and fresh elections are due.

But opposition parties have complained about many of the rulings by the courts. The Electoral Court has the power to declare election results null and void on the grounds of fraud, violence and intimidation, ballot tampering and can disqualify a winning candidate and order a re-run. When the Chiweshe-led electoral commission sat on the March 2008 poll

results, the MDC filed an urgent application to the Electoral Court to have them released, but the court threw out the application.

A new Zimbabwe Electoral Commission was named last month and is chaired by Simpson Mutambanengwe, a consensus figure who served at the Zimbabwe High Court before moving to the Namibian bench where he worked for more than a decade, including as acting chief justice. Mutambanengwes commission will run the next elections but like its Chiweshe-led predecessor will have to rely on the Electoral court to decide on disputes related to polls.

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