JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa’s Electoral Court on Tuesday ruled that former President Jacob Zuma can run for office in the upcoming general election, overturning an earlier decision that had barred him from contesting the polls.

The decision paves the way for Zuma to run for president on behalf of the uMkhonto weSizwe Party, or MK, a new political organization that he joined last year after denouncing the ruling African National Congress party that he once led.

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South Africans will elect 400 members of the country’s General Assembly on May 29. A month later, the lawmakers in the new parliament will choose the country’s president.

The Independent Electoral Commission had earlier ruled that Zuma could not run for office due to his criminal record, after it received an objection against his candidacy.

South-Africa-Zuma-Elections

Former South African President Jacob Zuma in the Electoral High Court in Johannesburg on Monday, April 8, 2024. South Africa’s Electoral Court has ruled, Tuesday, April 9, 2024 that Zuma can stand for office as a lawmaker in the country’s upcoming elections. (AP Photo)

South Africa’s constitution does not allow people who have been convicted of a crime and sentenced to more than 12 months in prison without the option of a fine to stand for elections as lawmakers.

Zuma was convicted and sentenced to 15 months in prison in 2021 for defying a court order to appear before a judicial commission probing corruption allegations in government and state-owned companies during his presidential term from 2009 to 2018.

However, in a brief court order released on Tuesday, the court announced that an appeal by Zuma and his party was successful and that the objection against his candidacy had been dismissed.

The uMkhonto weSizwe Party welcomed the court decision, saying it had always been its view that the electoral commission’s decision to bar Zuma was wrong.

According to its spokesman Nhlamulo Ndhlela, Zuma would appear on the ballot as the party’s presidential candidate — meaning that he is likely to be elected as a lawmaker. While the MK may get enough votes for parliament seats, it’s not clear if it can win a parliament majority, required for its candidate to be chosen for president.

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“We are ecstatic at the court verdict because we have always said that President Zuma and the MK Party’s rights have to be upheld,” Ndhlela said. “What this basically means is that he will be our presidential candidate and he will be in Parliament after the elections.”

Political analyst Dirk Kotze, from the University of South Africa, said Zuma was likely to use his court victory to promote his argument that the initial ban on his contesting the election was part of a political campaign against him.

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