Zambia court allows ex-MPs to contest polls

LUSAKA – Zambia's Supreme Court has turned down a government petition to prevent opposition lawmakers – whose seats have been nullified by the court for allegedly engaging in electoral wrongdoing – from contesting their seats.

"We discovered that there had been impropriety to the procedure," Judge Gregory Phiri said Thursday, reading out the ruling on behalf of the Supreme Court's full bench.

Shortly after 2011 tripartite elections, the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) petitioned the court to nullify all parliamentary seats won by opposition candidates.

After the seats were nullified, the ruling party began to pressure the government not to allow them to contest their seats.

The government petitioned the court to prevent lawmakers whose seats had been nullified from re-contesting the polls for allegedly engaging in electoral malpractice.

But the Supreme Court explained that the motion had been dismissed because it did not seek to correct clerical errors and accidental slips or omissions by the High Court.

Judge Phiri said the High Court should have rendered reports to the director of the public prosecution if it had found anything criminal in the MPs' conduct.

"Our job as the court of arbitration is to correct the wrongs made by the lower court, not to hear litigation. Since the High Court did not render such reports, the affected former members of parliament are free to re-contest their seats," he ruled.

Today's ruling means that ten former opposition MPs are now free to re-contest their seats.

Certain interest groups, including opposition parties and civil society groups, have interpreted the move as a victory for democracy.

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