The Electoral Court overturned the Chimanimani nomination court’s refusal to certify Roy Bennett as a candidate for the Chimanimani seat in the 2005 elections and allowed him to run.
Bennett’s earlier disqualification hinged on his conviction by Parliament and sentencing to one year imprisonment for assaulting Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa in Parliament.
The Constitution disqualifies an individual convicted by a court and sentenced to more than six months imprisonment from serving in Parliament.
The Electoral Court ruled that Bennett was qualified to run despite his incarceration.
Viewing cable 05HARARE428, ELECTORAL COURT HOLDS BENNETT ELIGIBLE
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L HARARE 000428
AF/S FOR B. NEULING
NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR C. COURVILLE
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/31/2010
SUBJECT: ELECTORAL COURT HOLDS BENNETT ELIGIBLE
REF: (A) 04 HARARE 1943 (B) 04 HARARE 1787 (C) 04
Classified By: Charge d’Affaires a.i. Eric T. Schultz under Section 1.4
¶1. (U) In its first decision since it was appointed last
month, Zimbabwe’s Electoral Court announced March 15 that MDC
MP Roy Bennett will be permitted to run for his Chimanimani
seat. Electoral Court Judge Tendai Uchena overturned the
Chimanimani nomination court’s refusal on February 18 to
certify Bennett as a candidate. Bennett’s earlier
disqualification hinged on his “conviction” by Parliament and
sentencing to one year imprisonment over his assault of
Minister for Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Patrick
Chinamasa on the floor of Parliament last year (refs A and B).
¶2. (U) The Constitution disqualifies an individual convicted
by a court and sentenced to more than six months imprisonment
from serving in Parliament. However, the Electoral Court
ruled that Bennett, who was convicted by Parliament and not a
court, remained qualified to run despite his continuing
incarceration. The Court ordered that the nomination court
be reconvened on April 4 to consider papers of candidates,
with polling to be postponed from March 31 to April 30.
¶3. (C) One of Bennett’s lawyers told us that he had been
told by opposing counsel that an appeal was unlikely.
Bennett’s lawyer noted that the three-judge Electoral Court
sitting en banque – not the ZANU-PF-dominated Supreme Court –
would hear an appeal if one were filed.
¶4. (C) The Court’s first decision is as surprising as it is
encouraging. Many local observers did not expect it to buck
the GOZ at all, let alone in its first decision. Moreover,
removing Bennett – a white commercial farmer who is very
popular in a rural constituency the ruling party considers
part of its heartland – has been a high ZANU-PF priority and
the decision is sure to infuriate the party leadership.
Whether the ruling party has another trick up its sleeve to
exclude Bennett remains to be seen. The Court also acted
with unusual dispatch. Bennett filed the case shortly after
the adverse February 18 ruling and the Court took less than
three weeks to reach a decision. This is in marked contrast
to the electoral disputes from the 2000 election, many of
which have yet to be concluded five years later. The Court’s
ability to continue this sort of activism may be limited by
its lack of a budget or supporting secretariat. That said,
it apparently will not be limited by a lack of political will
— a most welcome development.