10 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Referendum Attracts Mixed Feelings

ZIMBABWE will soon be going to a referendum to decide on the fate of the draft constitution, but if recent events are anything to go by, the plebiscite would be nothing more than a rubber stamping exercise.

With memories of the last referendum still lingering, many would have expected a contest between those who support the Copac draft and those against it.

But the prospects of a real battle are fast diminishing.

This is because Zanu PF and the two formations of the MDC, who between them have a majority of supporters in the country, are endorsing the draft.

The three parties are likely to whip their members to vote for the draft constitution, rendering any opposition to it futile.

The question, therefore, is whether the referendum could be of any use or would just turn out to be a further strain on the country's delicate finances.

A fortnight ago, Finance minister Tendai Biti said he had only US$217 in the national coffers but the country needed at least US$85 million to hold the referendum.

Political analyst, Trevor Maisiri contends the referendum will be a platform for consensus from the three parties and there will be no contestation.

He however maintains that it ought to be held.

"I think it is part of the democratic process to allow the draft to go through to the referendum as not everyone is Zanu PF or part of the two MDCs," Maisiri, a senior analyst for southern Africa at the International Crisis Group, said.

He said even if people opposed to the draft were a minority, they deserved to be given a chance to be heard.

"Even if there are people who belong to minority political parties or groupings that do not agree to the draft, it is their democratic right to express their views through a referendum," Maisiri said.

The National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), a faction of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and a number of organisations have already aired their discontent at the draft, vowing to oppose it.

Maisiri conceded that the constitution-making exercise was supposed to be "people-driven", but had been usurped by the political parties.

"This is precisely what happens when we try to adopt democratic processes under a weak democratic culture," he explained.

"Even the outreach process was not people-driven, as political parties hijacked the process and only political party positions were given room for projection."

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