On Wednesday, 2nd of June 2021, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) hosted a virtual public webinar on the topic; “Judicial Independence; Implications for Electoral Democracy in Zimbabwe.” A panel of four constitutional and legal experts graced the occasion, namely Professor Lovemore Madhuku, a Constitutional Law expert and one of the POLAD principals, Portia Kurima, a development practitioner and elections expert, Dr. Maxwell Shumba, President of the Zimbabwe People First Party and Dr. Alex Magaisa, a lawyer and Constitutional expert.
The objectives of the meeting were to discuss the state of Judiciary Independence in Zimbabwe and its implications for electoral democracy as well as the efficacy of the current legal framework in safeguarding judicial independence in Zimbabwe. The meeting also focused on strategies and recommendations that can be employed by the various actors to protect judiciary independence in Zimbabwe.
Dr. Alex Magaisa noted that, the Judiciary is one of the major arms of the state and a critical referee when it comes to electoral dispute resolution. Legislation including the Zimbabwe Constitution and the Electoral Act give the Judiciary an important role in resolving disputes. He observed that the Judiciary must at all times demonstrate impartiality. Another panelist, Portia Kurima emphasized that an independent judiciary is needed to ensure that democracy is withheld. She noted that the current Executive’s hold on the judiciary has had a negative impact on its impact on democratic processes, including in electoral matters, resulting in low confidence in the institution. Kurima said there is need to restore faith and trust in the judiciary.
Panelists concurred that judicial independence in Zimbabwe has been put under the spotlight in many ways which has raised serious concerns on electoral democracy. Dr. Maxwell Shumba, noted that the ruling party in Zimbabwe has maintained and controlled everything, and what we have is a judicial capture as one of the ways they want to use to consolidate their power. He accused the party of using the judiciary as a tool to continue their rule in the same way the military and police are used. The party was further accused of not cooperating with other stakeholders, antagonizing the judiciary and viewing it as a threat when it demonstrates some impartiality.
The meeting also discussed the most recent amendments to the Constitution that have a negative bearing on judicial independence. Professor Madhuku was of the opinion that the independence of the judiciary is compromised because of the provisions in the current Constitution that gives a sitting President final say in the appointment of judges. He informed the meeting that the current challenge on the Chief Justice will be dealt with by the President who will appoint new judges to hear the appeal. Professor Madhuku urged Zimbabweans to desist from relying on the judiciary to solve political matters. He proposed two remedies regarding this development, which he termed the “political” and “legal” solutions. The first remedy consists of organizing resistance, including getting people on the streets to protest against the amendments, while the second option is the legal recourse, facilitated by the creation of a new constitution which will create a new legal framework. He also recommended that there be more civic interaction with the ordinary people for them to be interested in the political developments in the country. However, other panelists questioned the feasibility of the proposed political solution, noting the culture of fear that is embedded in most Zimbabweans.
Asked if there is a gender dimension to the independence of the judiciary in Zimbabwe, it was noted that women are often at the receiving end of violence and mistreatment before, during and after elections, a situation which has resulted in their low participation in electoral processes as candidates and voters. The protection of women by the judiciary will go a long way in improving their participation and representation in electoral processes.
To conclude the discussion, there was consensus and emphasis on the need for the independence of the judiciary. Panelists further propounded on the need for improved confidence in the judiciary system as an adjudicator in democratic processes, including elections. Several recommendations were given by the panelists, of which political remedies were highly recommended The need for electoral reform in order to improve the democratic space was also buttressed, including reforms in the media particularly on access to the media by all political parties, scaling up of voter registration, scaling up of voter education, political mobilization, monitoring and observations of election as well as democratizing the process of nominating candidates.
Source: Zimbabwe Election Support Network