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Zimbabwe Judge Removes 2 Senior Officials from Election Misconduct Case - 2003-10-22

A High Court judge in Zimbabwe Wednesday has approved a petition by two top government officials that allows them to remove themselves from a case brought by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. The opposition is questioning the judge's decision, saying the two officials played a key role in the presidential election last year that the opposition is challenging in the courts.

In their petition, the two officials, the registrar general and the minister of justice, argued that the election challenge is strictly between President Robert Mugabe and Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who alleges gross irregularities in the poll. Most Western observers condemned the election result, which Mr. Mugabe won, as not being either free or fair.

With the registrar general and the minister of justice removed from the case, two respondents remain: President Mugabe and the Electoral Supervisory Commission. But the Commission has also applied to the courts to be removed as a respondent.

The opposition has expressed surprise at the court decision. Brian Elliot, the MDC legal representative in the case, said any person with a substantial interest in the case must be cited. He said the registrar general was cited in his capacity as head of the body that conducts elections and the minister of justice was cited because he wrote the laws that tilted the elections in the president's favor.

In a related development, another High Court judge has annulled the election victory of a ruling ZANU-PF parliamentary candidate in the 2000 general election. The MDC won 57 of the 120 contested seats in that election.

The courts have so far ruled in favor of the opposition in eight of the more than 20 results it has challenged. However, the ruling party candidates in the other cases continue to sit in parliament pending the hearing of their appeals in the Supreme Court. The next general elections are due in 2005.