HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe's highest court said it will rule Tuesday on a legal battle over disputed elections that gave President Robert Mugabe a landslide victory, even though the opposition dropped its challenge in protest to the state's refusal to hand over polling data.
Zimbabwe's Constitutional Court on Monday heard demands by Mugabe's attorneys for a hearing to go ahead despite the opposition's withdrawal, apparently reflecting the president's confidence that the court will throw out the case and strengthen his assertions that the vote was legitimate.
Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980, appoints the nation's judges and they have frequently ruled in his favor in the past decade of political and economic turmoil.
Terrence Hussein, an attorney for Mugabe, said a challenge to the presidential vote cannot be withdrawn under the constitution. The party of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai fears participation in the legal process would now give a stamp of credibility to the election.
"We can't be forced to go ahead," said Douglas Mwonzora, a spokesman for the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change.
Tsvangirai alleged widespread vote-rigging but withdrew the legal challenge on Friday after the state election commission declined to hand over voters' lists and poll tallies needed for evidence.
Opposition leaders said the proposed hearing also did not allow trial-style cross examination of witnesses and that they did not expect to receive a fair hearing on an appeal for fresh elections within 60 days.
Mugabe's office said arrangements are being made for his inauguration Thursday for another five-year term in office after holding power for 33 years since independence in 1980.
Tuesday's court ruling is not expected to change the timing. The constitution sets a presidential inauguration for 48 hours after disputes are either thrown out or declared invalid.
Mugabe's ZANU-PF party won 158 seats in the 210-seat legislature. The opposition garnered 50 seats and two were won by independent candidates.
Mugabe returned from Malawi on Sunday after a summit of the 15-nation Southern African Development Community, or SADC, a political and economic bloc. He said at the main Harare airport he had received "unanimous support" for his election victory from regional leaders, state radio reported.
It said a jubilant Mugabe, 89, was appointed the vice chair of SADC at the summit and will take over as chairman in early 2014, replacing President Joyce Banda of Malawi.
Regional election observers and monitors from the continentwide African Union commended the vote in Zimbabwe for being free of violence that has plagued previous elections. Western nations, barred by Mugabe from observing the vote, have criticized African monitors who swiftly endorsed Mugabe's new term in office.
Tsvangirai's party insists up to one million eligible voters were denied the right to cast ballots and that voters' lists were inaccurate, showing names of dead people and others who left the country as economic or political fugitives.
His party lost by wide margins in urban strongholds it has dominated since elections it fought in 2002 and 2008.