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Africa

Zambia inauguration goes ahead as opposition questions court ruling

media Lungu supporters celebrate in the streets of Lusaka after he was declared winner of the elections, 15 August 2016. Photo: AFP/Dawood Salim

Zambian authorities are pushing ahead on Monday with preparations for the inauguration of president-elect Edgar Lungu following a constitutional court ruling on a legal challenge to the country’s elections. The opposition says Zambia’s highest court has not given them a fair opportunity to present their case and accuses the judges of conniving with Lungu’s ruling party.

“By a majority decision of 3-2 [judges] have dismissed the petition for want of time, the petition is outside of the jurisdiction,” Amos Chanda, presidential spokesperson, told RFI. “The petitioners failed to produce their case provided for under the constitution.”

Lungu’s inauguration will take place on 13 September, according to Chanda, saying that Zambia’s head of the civil service, who is responsible for the swearing-in ceremony, had made the announcement.

However, Zambia’s main opposition party is unhappy with the proceedings and says the constitutional court did not give them time to present their case against the contested polls.

“The principal matter is that our petition has not been heard,” Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development (UPND), told RFI. “We’re in a constitutional crisis right now.”

Hichilema claims judges changed minds

Hichilema narrowly lost August’s election to Lungu, according to results from the Zambia Electoral Commission. Under the constitution the opposition had seven days to petition the constitutional court to nullify Lungu’s victory and the constitutional court had 14 days to hear a petition.

The constitutional court delivered a ruling on Friday but certain judges then changed their minds over the weekend, according to Hichilema. “This is strange, this is unheard of, which ruling will now apply as we stand?”

The court had said at the weekend that Hichilema will be given more time, the AFP news agency reported. “Justice can only be delivered if petitioners are heard and respondents are heard, none of us has been heard,” said Hichilema.

The government has dismissed the suggestion that the constitutional court overturned the opposition petition on a technicality, saying that this was an attempt by the opposition to save face.

“This technicality was actually engineered by the opposition so that they say they didn’t lose on the material evidence but as a result of a technicality,” said spokesperson Chanda. “Each time the judges ordered that the hearing go ahead, they raised a preliminary issue.”

The UPND had a number of complaints it was going to bring to the constitutional court, including media violations, candidates being stopped from campaigning in certain parts of the country, abuse of government resources and mismanagement by the electoral commission, according to Jack Mwiimbu, a lawyer for UPND, who spoke with RFI on Tuesday last week.

“It means there’s a breakdown in the rule of law in this country,” said Hichilema. “These three judges and the ruling party are encouraging anarchy, they’re encouraging disorder.”

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