January 31, 2018 / 2:53 PM / in 4 months

Zimbabwe names judge Chigumba as election commission chief before crucial vote

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa has named High Court Judge Priscilla Chigumba as head of the election agency, according to an official letter, ahead of a vote this year whose credibility will be key in rebuilding the nation’s foreign relations.

Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa attends the 30th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Heads of State and the Government of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia January 28, 2018. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has not had a permanent chair since Rita Makarau resigned in December.

Makarau was seen as an ally of 93-year-old former president Robert Mugabe, whose increasingly repressive 37-year rule alienated African and Western nations alike. But she gave no reason for her resignation, a month after Mugabe stepped down when the army and his ZANU-PF party turned against him.

A copy of Chigumba’s appointment letter written by the chief secretary to Mnangagwa and his cabinet showed that Chigumba would start her new job immediately and was expected to be sworn-in on Thursday.

A government source also confirmed her appointment.

Mnangagwa said last week the southern African country would hold transparent elections by July and he would respect the result if the opposition wins.

Chigumba’s last high-profile case was in November when she freed activist pastor Evan Mawarire, who had faced trial on charges of attempting to subvert Mugabe’s government.

Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by James Macharia and Mark Heinrich

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