21 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Focus On New Charter Ignores Other Reforms in GPA

While the Constitution drafting team sets to work preparing the final draft of a new charter agreed to by the government principals last week, debate over what was agreed and what it means for the country's elections has intensified.

As the political parties celebrate an agreement after three years of bickering, the other key reforms stipulated by the Global Political Agreement (GPA) have slowly faded into the background and elections have become the one thing government appears to be concerned with.

McDonald Lewanika, Director of the Crisis Coalition, told SW Radio Africa that other reforms stipulated by the GPA, that are essential to ensure a credible poll, have been sidelined and elections are now the focus. He explained that at least one important reform, the Constitution, has finally been completed.

"Of course the other reforms that are critical for us to hold free and fair elections have been sidelined as people focused on this long running episode of the Constitution making process, which I think is unfortunate. But from a political psychology point of view, the Constitution was the biggest prize," Lewanika said.

He added: "I have to agree with those who say we need to hold on opening the champagne bottle, because the definitive process that is supposed to take place which is the referendum, we do not yet know when that will be. And we have no date for elections either."

The deadlock had been caused by ZANU PF's refusal to stick to the July, 2012 draft that their negotiators signed, insisting on many changes that they claimed represented the will of the people.

The MDC formations at first refused to make any more changes, saying they had already compromised enough. They even wrote to the SADC appointed mediator, President Jacob Zuma, calling on him to intervene.

At a press conference after the agreement last week, Robert Mugabe said: "We shall after the actual completion of the draft constitution, be making a proclamation as to the way forward and then we will stipulate our roadmap and state when the referendum will be held. And that will indicate also when our elections will be forthcoming."

"We" meant the principals, and this has been strongly criticised by the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), who are advocating for a NO vote on the new charter. NCA spokesman Madock Chivasa told SW Radio Africa that the exercise has been taken over by three people, after wasting lots of time and money.

"We have always been against this process saying that the politicians should not write the constitution. So what has happened now is they have finally handed it over to their principals who then finally agreed on the contents of the constitution," Chivasa explained.

He added: "What it means is that we now have a Constitution that has been written by political leaders. The contents of the draft are based on what ZANU PF was demanding and what the three principals wanted. As the NCA we believe this is totally unacceptable after wasting so much time and money."

In terms of a timeline, COPAC co-chairman Douglas Mwonzora, has said he expects the final drafting to be completed within a week or by the end of January at the latest. Presentation to parliament in February would be next, followed by a referendum in late March or early April.

But according to the state run Herald newspaper, the new agreement "means the President could immediately call for elections anytime after the new Constitution has been adopted.

The paper quotes Paul Mangwana, the ZANU PF co-chair in COPAC, as saying: "The forthcoming elections will have no timelines in the new Constitution because those elections are not going to be determined by the new law".

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