New bill grants Mugabe judicial control

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Zimbabwe‘s parliament on Tuesday changed the Constitution to give back to President Robert Mugabe sole power to appoint the country’s top three judges, a move the main opposition said could undermine the independence of the judiciary.

Zimbabwe voted for a new charter in 2013, which reduced the president’s authority to name the chief justice, his deputy and the judge president of the High Court.

Under that provision, the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), a panel of mostly senior judges and lawyers, held interviews for each post. Mugabe would then pick final candidates from the names submitted by the commission.

But on Tuesday, Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF party used its two-thirds majority in parliament to ram through a bill to change the law, allowing Mugabe to solely appoint the senior judges.

The amendment is the first change to the 2013 Constitution.

“We did not support the bill, essentially because in terms of substance, it’s not something that will enhance the independence of the judiciary,” Innocent Gonese, Chief Whip of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said after the vote.

“The amendment will take us back to the era of imperial presidency, which concentrates power in the hands of one man,” Gonese said after his party had unsuccessfully tried to stop the vote.

Vice President Emmerson Mnanagwa has previously dismissed the opposition’s concerns, saying the constitution had adequate measures to guarantee the bench’s independence.