18 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Mixed Reaction Meets 'Agreement' On Constitution

The announcement by the principals in the unity government of their approval of the draft constitution has been met with mixed reaction from Zimbabweans, with many still expressing doubts about the contents of the new charter.

Robert Mugabe, Morgan Tsvangirai, Arthur Mutambara and Welshman Ncube announced Thursday that the draft had been finalised, three years after the process of writing a new constitution was started. The document still needs to be 'rubber-stamped' by the standing committees of the political parties in government, ZANU PF's politburo and the full COPAC parliamentary committee, before a final draft goes to a referendum.

The news has so far been cautiously welcomed, because it means the drawn out constitution making process is finally gaining some momentum towards a referendum. But there are also concerns being raised that the process is far removed from the people-driven one that was originally promised, and the result will be a constitution with few changes from the current Lancaster House charter.

The National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) said on Friday that it remains "unshaken" by the agreement reached by government, because "the COPAC process was illegitimate, undemocratic and not people driven." NCA spokesperson Madock Chivasa told SW Radio Africa on Friday that the constitution is clearly politicised and will be "rejected" if key changes are not made.

"This has fallen short of the democratic process of coming up with a new constitution because the government leaders were the ones to finalise it. That is even worse than the COPAC driven process. So we hope they've made some changes, for example the unlimited powers of the President. But if the views of the people have not been taken into account, they will reject it," Chivasa said.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) also expressed reservations on Friday about the lack of public input, both in the making of the draft and in the coming 'rubber stamping' process.

"Citizens should be given an opportunity to understand the draft, debate it and make choices based on information and awareness of the contents of the constitution. The constitution is for Zimbabweans and they need to be prioritised in these processes. The draft has to be translated and summarised into content that is accessible and understandable to citizens to enable informed choices at the referendum," ZESN said.

The groups added that is "concerned that taking the draft back to the parties' standing committees and the politburo will regress the process as more changes will be proposed and negotiations will commence again, thus hindering the progress to referendum."

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