24 October 2012

Zimbabwe: MPs Face Whip

LEGISLATORS from ZANU-PF and the two formations of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) face the proverbial whip when the constitution draft comes to Parliament to make it easy for President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister (PM) Morgan Tsvangirai who will have the final say on what goes into the new supreme law of the land, which has taken more than three years to get where it is currently.

President Mugabe, who appears to have PM Tsvangirai in his corner, is seen by hardliners in his party as the only tried and tested cadre who could use his political clout to give the draft charter a slant that suits ZANU-PF's interests.

The party had previously attempted to force the Constitution Parliamentary Select Committee (COPAC) to overhaul the draft based on recommendations made by its supreme decision-making body in between congresses - the Politburo - but backed down after the MDC parties threatened to declare a deadlock.

A deadlock would have put the party on a collision course with the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which acts as the last court of appeal in all Global Political Agreement (GPA) related matters.

Undeterred, ZANU-PF then used the second All Stakeholders' Conference held in Harare this week to press ahead with its agenda but the three parties in governing coalition could not agree on a number of contentious issues tabled by President Mugabe's party during the two-day indaba.

Some of the suggested changes made during the COPAC meeting were cosmetic, mostly to do with grammar, and not constitutional issues.

Despite failing to reach a deal over the sticky issues in the draft, President Mugabe, PM Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Arthur Mutambara are said to be moving towards a negotiated settlement. Informed sources however, said they have since realised that MDC leader, Welshman Ncube, a constitutional law expert, could be the deal breaker, hence attempts to sideline him in preference to DPM Mutambara.

President Mugabe has been shielding Mutambara from being dethroned as a GPA principal to give way to Ncube. PM Tsvangirai seems to be in tacit agreement with his main rival on the issue, prompting Ncube and his formation to boycott the opening of the constitution conference on Monday over the status of the deputy premier in the GPA. Ncube said he will refer his case to SADC, which prescribed the unity government following inconclusive elections in 2008.

With the draft expected in Parliament during the new session which President Mugabe opens next Tuesday, the principals in the unity government are envisaged to use the whip system to influence debate on the draft as happened at the consummation of the inclusive government when legislators from across the political divide were stampeded to vote en masse for constitutional amendment number 19.

After the debate in the august house, the draft would be submitted to a national referendum to decide whether it would be adopted as the new supreme law of the land to replace the current compromise Lancaster House document.

Confidential sources insisted yesterday that an alliance has been forged between President Mugabe, PM Tsvangirai and Mutambara in the absence of Ncube, as the veteran ZANU-PF politician seeks to outmaneuver his political foes ahead of a crucial election he is desperate to win and gain legitimacy, something he failed to do in the bloody 2008 presidential poll.

Ncube's absence is seen favourable to President Mugabe as it creates a perceived intellectual vacuum amongst the principals which is why the ZANU-PF leader has persistently ignored the SADC Maputo resolution recognising Ncube as one of the principals in favour of a triumvirate involving him, the premier and Mutambara.

President Mugabe has chosen to side with Mutambara, who is presently looking for a political home amid indications that the DPM, a perceived praise-singer of the ZANU-PF leader, could come in handy for ZANU-PF as it seeks to regain its political fortunes in Manicaland in the next polls. Mutambara hails from Manicaland.

ZANU-PF insiders said the incumbent is particularly peeved by a draft clause proposing the selection of running mates during elections as it will compel him to anoint an heir apparent. President Mugabe has in the past avoided settling the succession question, fearing it would tear apart his already fractious party.

He is said to have found a willing partner in PM Tsvangirai who is also said to be unhappy with the running mate clause because of internecine infighting within his party.

President Mugabe is also under pressure to push through 266 amendments to the COPAC draft highlighted by the Politburo. Impeccable ZANU-PF sources said he is confident he would be able to dribble past PM Tsvangirai at the principals level because the MDC-T leader will not be able to sound his secretariat and kitchen cabinet which he normally consults to supplement his weak technical stamina during the high level discussions.

The premier is known to have a short concentration span and not paying attention to detail, which makes him vulnerable whenever debate is elevated to an intellectual level.

A former American diplomat once posted to Zimbabwe described the MDC-T as a politician who needs massive hand-holding, an assessment that has since proved to be true.

President Mugabe did not hide his intentions on Monday when he openly told delegates to the second All-Stakeholders' Conference that the principals would have the final say on the draft.

"We started this process. Sometimes Parliament thinks it's so sovereign that it controls the principals. We are the ones who caused everything. Sometimes people fail to know where power is derived from and we, the principals, are the ones who caused this process and we are going to be involved throughout," said President Mugabe.

The architects of the COPAC draft are now in a serious dilemma.

The draft had received the thumbs up from both MDC formations with ZANU-PF negotiators, as represented by Paul Mangwana, Patrick Chinamasa and Nicholas Goche, having endorsed it during COPAC negotiations. While ZANU-PF is now discrediting the draft charter, not everyone in the party is against the document although no one has had the courage to openly support it.

Against this background, the architects of the draft had envisaged a situation whereby the bicameral Parliament would give the draft a vote of confidence before taking it to the referendum. In their wisdom or lack of it, they had also reasoned that Parliament would have the last say on the COPAC draft in line with the GPA, which is no longer the case.

Former ZANU-PF Politburo member and leader of Mavambo Kusile/Dawn, Simba Makoni this week said President Mugabe was wrong in assuming that the principals to the GPA would have a final say on the constitution.

"Nowhere in the GPA are the so-called principals given a role, let alone final say in the making of the new constitution. President Mugabe's statement is not only unfounded, but also contradicts the spirit and notion of a people-driven constitution-making pro-cess," said Makoni, adding that statements attributed to the President were a clear sign of unwarranted executive interference in the affairs of the legislature.

"The three GPA leaders are not the only people in Zimbabwe; the country has 14 million citizens. Besides, the President's utterances are not shared by the other GPA principals. The import of the President's remarks is that the people's views do not matter at all. This should not surprise anyone since disregard of the will of the people has been President Mugabe's hallmark for the past two decades. The GPA principals have no mandate to finalise the country's constitution. Therefore, President Mugabe should not usurp the powers and responsibilities of both Parliament and the people of Zimbabwe," he added.

In the coming weeks, the spotlight is likely to be on PM Tsvangirai whose biggest test, according to critics, would be his adherence or lack thereof to the values he purports to subscribe to -- democracy.

On Monday, PM Tsvangirai, appeared to appease his constituency by pledging that the principals would only play "guidance role" and "have no intention to tamper with the process," which belongs to Parliament.

Despite his claims, MDC-T insiders have raised the red-flag, warning that the premier was engaged in double-speak.

Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Eric Matinenga, appeared hopeful this week that the legislature would stamp its authority.

"What is happening is that all the reports will now be consolidated by COPAC and COPAC will then decide whether to include the suggestions or not. But it would be naïve of me to say there won't be any hiccups," he said in an interview with The Financial Gazette.

Critics of the coalition government were this week highly critical of the constitution conference saying although it ended peacefully, it was a farce, claiming that nothing tangible came out of it.

Pedzisai Ruhanya, the director of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, was most scathing, saying the COPAC indaba lacked robust debate.

"The COPAC process reveals beyond doubt the political shenanigans of the main political parties. What we are likely going to have is a purely negotiated ZANU-PF and MDC formations constitution masquerading as people-driven. In this regard, a referendum can only take place if these political parties agree to have a compromise document but I can tell you that it will largely reflect the position of ZANU-PF because it controls State power and has a fall-back position in the event of disagreements. Just as ZANU-PF was the biggest beneficiary of the GPA, so it shall be with the constitution," said Ruhanya yesterday.

Blessing Vava, the spokesperson for the National Constitution Assembly, a fiery critic of the COPAC process, said the indaba was much ado about nothing.

"Apart from fulfilling Article VI of the GPA there was nothing of importance to this conference. The process was exclusive to the three parties; no other political party was invited to participate in that process so in its own it was not an all stakeholders' meeting rather (it was) a meeting of the parties in the Government of National Unity. Also, the greatest flaw of it all is that the principals will have the final say as President Mugabe puts it during the opening of the conference," said Vava.

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