ASCENSION to the Constitutional Court, one of the top of the judicial trees, ought to be a career-defining and deeply satisfying moment for any judge getting that once-in-a-lifetime appointment. It ought to be a confirmation of his/her intellect, erudition and incorruptibility.
But a decision by UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema to claim that Constitutional Court judges were paid huge amounts of money to deliberately lapse the UPND petition to nullify the re-election of President Edgar Lungu in the just-ended general elections has unsurprisingly lit an inferno of controversy, as never witnessed in the history of the Zambian judiciary (â€œJudges thugs, criminals – HHâ€ – Daily Nation, September 10, 2016).
Needless to say, the UPND leader is the kind of five-time serial election loser Zambian judiciary can ill-afford at this time. His controversial outbursts against the Constitutional Court judges are a test for the Chief Justice. Simply suing him for libel and defamation by the affected Constitutional Court judges would not be enough.
It is obvious that the UPND top leadership has seemingly been drifting into lawless desperation and the opposition party is becoming more dangerous and a patronage network than a channel for fresh ideas. The return of rabble-rousing, among other tendencies is a sign that it is time to stop the rot.
It goes without saying that Chief Justice Irene Mambilima must know that the longer sheâ€™s seen to be tolerating Hichilemaâ€™s waywardness, the more she would be seen to be a vacillating chief justice. But who can blame her? She might just think it would be prudent to keep to the long grass until the UPND election petition shenanigans in the Constitutional Court are over. The lesson of former Chief Justice Lombe Chibesakunda would be too fresh in her mind to forget.
But the Chief Justice must know that Hichilemaâ€™s vitriol, his position on the 14-day window of the UPND election petition in the Constitutional Court and his crude, personal character assassinations of judicial officers could damage both the internal and external image of the judiciary, the PF government and Zambia as a whole.
The fact that Zambia, as was shown recently, suffered economic paralysis due to the presidential election petition, and had lost foreign direct investments is a harbinger of worse things to come if Hichilemaâ€™s invectives are taken seriously by foreign investors.