Zambia’s Constitutional Court suspends Lungu’s eligibility case

The Constitutional Court in Zambia has adjourned the case in which four political parties are seeking an interpretation of President Edgar Lungu’s eligibility to contest in the 2021 presidential elections.
Justice Anne Sitali of the Constitutional Court said the court could not hear the case until a complaint lodged against Justice Hilda Chibomba is disposed of.
Justice Chibomba is the Constitutional Court president.
Four ‘opposition’ political parties have petitioned the Constitutional Court, seeking a declaration that President Edgar Lungu is eligible to contest in the 2021 presidential elections.
The petitioners argue that President Lungu who was first elected in January 2015 after the death of President Michael Sata has not served a full term of office as he was in office for just one year and 6 months.
They further argue that President Lungu’s first full term begins after he was sworn in on September 13, 2016 following his victory in the August polls.
What does the law say?
The new Zambian constitution, promulgated in August 2016, states that “a person who has twice been elected as President shall not be eligible for re-election to that office”.
President Lungu has been twice elected to the office of the president; in January 2015 and August 2016.
However, a further clause states that “If the Vice-President (VP) assumes the office of President … or a person is elected to the office of President as a result of an election [a presidential election held if the VP cannot assume the presidency for any reason] … the Vice-President or the President-elect shall serve for the unexpired term of office and be deemed
(a) to have served a full term as President if, at the date on which the President assumed office, at least three years remain before the date of the next general election; or
(b) not to have served a term of office as President if, at the date on which the President assumed office, less than three years remain before the date of the next general election.”
President Lungu served for one year and six months during his first term of office.
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Case hits yet another snag
But before the case can be heard by the court, the Judicial Complaints Commission notified the Constitutional Court that its president Justice Chibomba is being accused of gross misconduct and incompetence.
The allegations filed by yet more ‘opposition parties’ in Zambia claim that Justice Chibomba shares the same lawyers (Messers Malambo and Company) with one of the petitioners, the opposition UPND party, who are the 2nd interested party.
They contend that the law firm in question represented Justice Chibomba as recently as three months ago in October, 2017.
These parties describe the situation as ‘undesirable and deliberate’, and further argue that they feel intimidated by the possibility of ‘bias and collusion’.
Justice Sitali who confirmed that the court had received copies of the complaint to the Judicial Complaints Commission, adjourned the case till further notice.
President Edgar has in the past, warned the Constitutional Court, not to make adventurous’ rulings that ‘could plunge the country into chaos’.

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