The three coalition government parties in Zimbabwe have finally agreed on a draft constitution after nearly four years of acrimonious debate.
Following the disputed 2008 elections, the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and the two formations of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had to enter a power-sharing agreement to avoid plunging the country deeper into conflict over the electoral results.
Since that time, the three parties have struggled to adhere to the provisions set out in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) mediated Global Political Agreement (GPA). According to the GPA, Zimbabwe had to adopt a new constitution before conducting elections again.
The leaders of ZANU-PF and the two formations of the MDC - President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Industry and Commerce Minister Welshman Ncube respectively - have now been handed this document for their determination.
Some positive proposed changes in the draft constitution include constraining the executive through a system of checks and balances. For example, the president will no longer make important decisions such as the declaration of war, state of public emergency and senior public appointments without consulting parliament. The presidential and key public office terms are limited, and the terms of succession in case of the sudden death, resignation or incapacitation of the president have been clarified.
The constitution has to be translated into the vernacular languages used in Zimbabwe, as well as braille. The Constitution Select Committee (COPAC) of Parliament that is driving the constitution-making process expects to publicise the proposed constitution before tabling it before a Second All Stakeholders' Conference in August 2012, and then before Parliament for validation.
The final document will then need to be subjected to a referendum within three months of this validation, where Zimbabweans will vote to accept or reject the draft. The referendum will be conducted in the international spotlight. Although the European Union Council of Foreign Affairs noted at its 23 July meeting in Brussels that Zimbabwe had made good progress in terms of the constitution-drafting process, it would only suspend most sanctions against Zimbabwe, including the aid freeze, upon the holding of a credible referendum. However, even then, the Council announced that the sanctions against President Mugabe and his inner circle would remain in place.
However, even when all this is done, the country still has to adopt a political roadmap to ensure free and fair elections. It is in this regard that SADC will have to step in and offer Zimbabwe its full support. At the SADC Summit that was held in June, the regional body called on the Zimbabwean parties to develop an implementation mechanism and to set out timeframes for the full implementation of a clear political roadmap to ensure the next elections are credible.
SADC's facilitator, South African President Jacob Zuma, will have a key role to play in this regard to prevent another sham election in Zimbabwe. Ideally, SADC will deploy its electoral monitors well before the election date, so that they are there during the preparation period in order to prevent violence and intimidation from revisiting the electoral process.