The presidential petition in which the United Party for National Development (UPND) leader Mr Hakainde Hichilema and his running mate Mr Geoffrey Mwamba are challenging the re-election of President Edgar Lungu collapsed last night when his legal team abandoned them.
In a dramatic twist of events, after Mr Hichilema and Mr Mwamba pleaded with the Constitutional Court for an extension of time in order for them to look for other lawyers, as they had a right to legal representation, the court granted their plea.
In its final ruling around mid-night, the Constitutional Court ordered HH and Mr Mwamba to look for lawyers over the weekend and have been given Monday and Tuesday to present their case before the court while the Respondents would do so on Wednesday and Thursday.
If what we are hearing is anything to go by, there is cause to worry.
The Constitutional Court unambiguously stated in its ruling yesterday that the petition can only be heard within fourteen days according to the provisions of Article 101 (5) of the Constitution which time frame came to a close yesterday at 23:59 hours.
Going by the foregoing, it implies that the Constitutional Court would have no jurisdiction to hear the petition as it is statute-barred by the Constitutional Court Rules Act 2016 to extend the time frame stipulated in the Constitution according to Order XV Rule 7 which states,
“The Court may extend time limited by these rules, or by a decision of the Court, except where time is specifically limited by the Constitution.”
It is actually shocking that the Court has u-turned on its earlier ruling and has breached its own rules of operation which do not allow extension of constitutionally stipulated time frame.
The shifting of goal posts by the Constitutional Court in its ruling poses serious ramifications on the integrity of the court. How will the public have confidence in the Constitutional Court if it suffers from such indecision? Why has the Court decided to extend by four more days?
From the onset, it appears that Mr Hichilema and Mr Mwamba were not ready for this petition. We even wonder as to why they chose to walk on such a perilous path.
It was very clear that the petitioners’ case was on the verge of collapse as the same court threw out almost their entire preliminary applications such as to compel the ECZ surrender the ballot boxes and other election materials to court, stop the verification exercise, amendment of the petition and application for extension of the fourteen day hearing period.
It would not be surprising if on Monday, the court decides to allow the petitioners to amend their petition and order the ECZ to surrender the ballot boxes and other election materials.