South Africa’s Electoral Body Takes Candidate Zuma’s Case To Top Court

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The electoral commission said Friday it had appealed to South Africa’s highest court to rule on whether ex-president Jacob Zuma can stand in a general election in May as political tensions heighten.

The vote is expected to be the most competitive since the 1994 advent of democracy in South Africa, and Zuma’s presence in the campaign could prove a key factor.

The commission said in a statement that it had lodged an “urgent and direct” appeal to the Constitutional Court to provide “certainty”.

It is the latest twist in legal wrangling over the eligibility of the 82-year-old, who celebrated his birthday Friday and is fronting uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), a new opposition party that has become a potential disruptor in the May 29 ballot.

In a surprise verdict on Tuesday, the electoral court ruled that Zuma could stand, overturning a decision by the electoral commission to bar him over a contempt of court conviction.

The commission had excluded Zuma from the race at the end of last month, saying the constitution barred anyone sentenced to more than 12 months’ imprisonment.

Zuma was handed 15 months in jail in June 2021 after refusing to testify to a panel investigating financial corruption and cronyism during his presidency.

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His lawyers argued the sentence did not disqualify him as it followed civil rather than criminal proceedings, and had been shortened by a remission.

Zuma was freed on medical parole just two months into his jail term.

The electoral commission said Friday that there was “substantial public interest in providing certainty on the proper interpretation” of the constitutional article relating to election candidates who have been convicted.

“Such clarity is important in the present matter because of a live issue but also for future elections,” it said.

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