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Controversial Judge Heads Up New Zimbabwe Electoral Authority

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe named an electoral commission to run parliamentary elections expected in March. The main opposition, Movement for Democratic Change said it had no confidence in the commission.

Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa announced that Mr. Mugabe appointed a 5-member body under the chairmanship of High Court Judge, George Chiweshe, who was appointed by President Robert Mugabe, leader of Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu-PF party.

Judge Chiweshe made legal history in 2002 when he told the High Court that the state did not have to provide any evidence to continue to detain a critically ill opposition member of parliament who was trying to get out of prison on bail.

He was also appointed by Mr. Mugabe to draw up a new map of voting districts released before Christmas. The MDC expressed concerns over Mr. Chiweshe's appointment because of the voter redistricting which removed three of the MDC's stronghold constituencies.

Mr. Chinamasa insisted that the commission reflects an all-inclusive consultation process, incorporating all three parties represented in Zimbabwe's parliament, including the MDC.

But, new electoral laws signed into law by Mr. Mugabe last week, for the first time give the military, police and prison officials a substantial role in the next poll, and they can, if recruited to serve, control voting and counting.

There was a frenzy of lawmaking late last year to establish new legislation and electoral authorities ahead of the poll which Mr. Mugabe says will be held in March ahead of his 25th anniversary of coming to power in 1980.

The MDC suspended participation in all elections five months ago because it said the electoral playing field was uneven. It said it would only take part when Zimbabwe's laws and practice complied with regional electoral principles agreed to by Mr. Mugabe and other southern African countries last August.

However most political analysts believe the MDC will take part in the general election, despite Zimbabwe's lack of compliance with regional electoral practices and laws.

Western observers are not expected to be invited to cover Zimbabwe's poll as they said the last two national elections were neither free nor fair.