23 January 2013

Zimbabwe: New Constitution - Deal From the High Table

THAT the country would go for elections this year was never in doubt, rather, the question was on which constitution would elections be held under - the current Lancaster House charter or the recently completed draft constitution.

This issue appears to have been put to bed by the inclusive government principals last week when they reached a compromise deal, which effectively ended the six-month-old constitutional impasse that had stagnated progress.

The Constitutional Parliamentary Select Committee (COPAC) had haggled for three years, with parties sometimes refusing to budge from entrenched positions. In the second half of last year, President Robert Mugabe pointed out after the Second All-Stakeholders' Conference that the principals would have a final say on the constitution. This drew severe criticism that the executive was interfering with the legislature.

But the constitutional process had already been tainted from the very onset as it was spearheaded by political parties, a point constitutional law expert and National Constitutional Assembly chairperson Lovemore Madhuku was never comfortable with.

Yet to break the impasse and move the process forward, the principals, President Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara and Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Welshman Ncube were always going to have to tackle the differences from the high table.

Compromise was always going to be the name of the game.

So, after last week's developments, news that the ZANU-PF Politburo would have to meet and approve the decision taken by principals has attracted skepticism.

Critics now argue that President Mugabe may have pulled the wool over PM Tsvangirai, Mutambara and Ncube. They argue that because it is the principals who have had to step in to resolve the constitutional impasse, there is no need to refer back to the ZANU-PF Politburo. In the same vein, the MDCs would also be within their rights to take the document back to their executive councils, at which point the previously disputed issues would resurface except if the principals'decision is final, which is what President Mugabe indicated.

"We have now come to the conclusion of the exercise. We are generally agreed and the finalisation of the draft is now being made. We have at last come to the end of this marathon exercise," President Mugabe said after the compromise deal was reached, indicating that debate on the constitution was over. But some have cautioned against celebrating yet, citing the pending Politburo meeting. Priscilla Misihairabwi Mushonga, secretary general in Ncube's MDC, this week told a daily newspaper that the situation was still delicate.

But some politicians close to the action seem confident of the direction the country is taking after last week's developments.

Writing on a social networking site, Mutambara said "agreement on the constitution was a product of political will, a shared national vision and compromise in the national interest. Citizens won".

Although ZANU-PF's COPAC co-chairperson, Munyaradzi Mangwana said it was "parochial and short-sighted" to say which party position had prevailed, while MDC-T Minister of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs, Eric Matinenga insisted the new constitution took into account the "fears, concerns and aspirations" of the three political parties, critics have said this is more a victory for the political parties than the citizens because the process became a political one.

Some civil society organisations argue that the "people" have been sacrificed for political expediency. However, while this may be so, the two MDCs were eager to avoid going for elections under the old Lancaster House Constitution and so have hailed the constitutional breakthrough.

Jameson Timba, Minister of State in PM Tsvangirai's office wrote over the weekend: "Read my lips. There will be no elections in Zimbabwe in March before a referendum on the constitution in April 2013..."

One of the things the political contestants agreed to in the draft constitution was the creation of a Prosecutor General's Office and an Attorney General's Office, who shall be the government's legal adviser while the former deals with prosecution. And they also agreed to do away with the provincial governors, and instead have provincial chairpersons, elected by the party winning the majority seats in the respective provinces. The clause on running mates will only be effected in 10 years time, meaning before this period, the party with the Presidency will replace the President if he/she dies in office, or is incapacitated.

Critics have pointed to this provision as indicative of the nature of compromises made by the political parties, opening up debate on how the "people" have been sacrificed. Yet the same "people" are poised to give the constitution a thumbs up at a referendum to be held before elections as all three political parties will mobilise their supporters for a YES vote, paving the way for elections later this year.

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