30 November 2012

Zimbabwe: The Constitutional Referendum Riddle

The MDCs now desperately want the Southern African Development Community appointed mediator to Zimbabwe South African President Jacob Zuma to urgently intervene to ensure the country holds the next polls under a new constitution and other requisite reforms.

AS the Parliamentary Constitution Select Committee (COPAC) winds up its business, the three main political parties are divided more than ever on what the final constitutional draft should contain amid criticism that a scheduled referendum has been rendered useless as the draft has become a heavily negotiated affair, far from being a people-oriented charter.

At the moment, there is a fresh storm over what happens after the Second All-Stakeholders' Conf-erence with President Robert Mugabe insisting that the Global Political Agreement (GPA) principals should have a final say over the draft constitution, not Parliament, a position which has stoked fires in the fractured inclusive government.

His position runs contrary to what the two formations of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and their leaders envisage as they are united in that the draft should go to Parliament and then put to a referendum.

The MDCs now desperately want Southern African Develop-ment Community appointed mediator to Zimbabwe, South African President Jacob Zuma to urgently intervene to ensure the country holds the next polls under a new constitution and other requisite reforms.

Yet Zuma's intervention seems bogged down by the politics in his own backyard. He is in the middle of a raging war of survival in which he faces a possible ouster from the African National Congress leadership and subsequently, the presidency at an elective congress next month in Mangaung.

Added to that, ZANU-PF has insisted on sneaking in clauses from its revised draft but the two MDCs are united in their stance that the draft has been negotiated enough times and so should go to a referendum in its current form.

Desperate that the next general elections be held under a new supreme law of the land, the MDCs have since started campaigning for a YES vote for the draft constitution come referendum time.

Yet the referendum itself has not been set down to any particular date.

While matters of process have formed the mainstay of current political debate in the country, President Mugabe has announced that harmonised elections would be held in March next year, only four months away. This implies that a referendum would have been held between now and March to decide on the constitution.

But it is not that simple. For starters, it is highly unlikely that a referendum would be held this year as the draft constitution is still not finalised amid sharp divisions on how to proceed with the draft.

The divisions will eventually be settled as has happened in the three years the draft was being crafted. Yet this will be done at the expense of the ordinary people. The biggest criticism that the constitution draft has had is that it is no longer about what Zimbabweans want but rather what the political parties would rather have.

Thus ZANU-PF's position that COPAC ignored the will of the people as expressed during the outreach programmes and the stakeholders' conferences would seem to have merit. Yet President Mugabe's party would be guilty of grandstanding given its entrenched views on devolution, media, electoral and security sector reforms. For instance, Police Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri this month encouraged senior police officers to reject the new constitution if it has provisions for devolution of power saying those calling for the alternative system of governance were unpatriotic. Chihuri told senior officers to do all they could to ensure devolution did not see the light of day.

"I urge you to refuse that," he said. "If I had the privilege of continuing being the Commissioner General, I will not preside over any division of this nature, never!"

Chihuri is one of the security sector chiefs who have openly said they support ZANU-PF. Taken together with other ZANU-PF heavyweights, Patrick Chinamasa and Rugare Gumbo's threats of a coup in the event of an electoral victory for Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai; Chihuri's pledge is not good news for proponents of democracy. Critics have come out guns blazing, citing his statements as more evidence for urgent security sector reforms.

Moreso, they say such statements betray ZANU-PF's motives in wanting the constitutional draft to be decided behind closed doors by the GPA principals and not Parliament. Further, questions have emerged on what kind of document Zimbabweans wo-uld be presented with at a constitutional referendum.

In fact, some critics have questioned the need for a referendum given the numerous negotiations that have dominated the constitution drafting saying it is no longer a people-driven constitution. Such a scenario has played well into the hands of Lovemore Madhuku's National Con-stitutional Assembly which has for long advocated for a people driven initiative in constitution making.

Dewa Mavhinga of the Zimbabwe Democracy Inst-itute says not only is the constitutional reform pro-cess way behind schedule but issues like the referendum would play second fiddle to back-room political negotiations and horse-trading.

"The referendum, politically speaking, is a non-event, it has little significance because, even if the vote is YES, still political parties in Parliament need to give in two-thirds support for it to be approved and presented to President Mugabe for signature into law. And President Mugabe has the option to refuse to sign the draft constitution into law - so, all the time the ball is in the politicians' court. Asking Zimba-bweans to vote in a referendum is merely paying lip service to democracy," concludes Mavhinga.

He opined that there is not enough time between now and the elections which President Mugabe wants in March as the draft constitution must be debated in Parliament for a month, which has not yet happened, and then there is the Christmas break.

"The only time left is for electoral campaigns under the current environment which is not favourable for credible, free and fair elections," he said.

Such a scenario has given credence to assertions that the referendum has become meaningless with ZANU-PF seen maneuvering towards a push for elections with or without a new constitution.

ZANU-PF would be a lot happier to have elections under the current Lancaster House Constitution which the MDCs are heavily opposed to.

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