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court bars jailed MP from running in poll
March 27, 2005
Heather will now run in his place
Harare - A jailed
white opposition MP will not be allowed to run in parliamentary
polls, Zimbabwe's new electoral court said on Saturday, reversing
an earlier ruling that had angered President Robert Mugabe. One
of the Movement for Democratic Change's (MDC) best-known candidates,
Roy Bennett is serving a 12-month jail term for assaulting a government
minister during a debate last year. The court said it had made the
decision in consultation with Bennett and the Zimbabwe Electoral
Commission, Bennett's lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa told Reuters. She said
his wife Heather would now run in his place. The court had originally
ruled that Bennett could stand for re-election despite his imprisonment.
It delayed the countrywide March 31 vote to April 30 in his constituency
to give him time to campaign. But the ruling annoyed the Zimbabwe
Electoral Commission and Mugabe, who said the country would not
be "held ransom by a man who is in prison". He told supporters
of his ruling Zanu PF to proceed with campaigning in the constituency.
Bennett had reached an agreement with the commission to have the
Chimanimani election held on March 31 after the government appealed
against the earlier ruling. "We took a practical decision after
coming to the conclusion that our chances of winning the case in
the Supreme Court were very small," Mtetwa said. The Electoral
Court was set up under reforms by Mugabe's government ahead of next
week's elections. Critics say the reforms are little more than window-dressing
to mask an electoral landscape still tilted in Zanu PF's favour.
Bennett had his coffee farm confiscated under the government's controversial
land reform programme designed to give white-owned farms to landless
blacks. His wife Heather said she agreed with her husband's decision,
adding that holding the vote in Chimanimain after March 31 would
increase the chances of it being rigged by Zanu PF. "It was
in the interest of the people of Chimanimani to hold the election
now so that Zanu PF will not be able to concentrate its resources
like its militia in one constituency," she said.
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