27 March 2013

Zimbabwe: Roller Coaster to Democracy - New Ride, Old Track

Many Zimbabweans expected the constitutional referendum to usher in a return to rule of law and democracy. But our blogger sees a different tale unfolding.

Zimbabwe's roller coaster journey to democracy that started around 1997 seems far from over. Despite some promising twists and turns, if events surrounding the constitutional referendum are anything to go by, the country may be free-falling into another political morass.

Many Zimbabweans wanted to believe that a new constitution would usher in a new political era, but disregard for the rule of law continues to ruin Zimbabwe's quest for justice.

The current regime continues to hamper the work of human rights defenders. The recent treatment of top human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa indicates that all is not well in Zimbabwe. Mtetwa was arrested on 17 March, while in the course of representing clients from Prime Minister Tsvangirai's office. She was charged with obstructing the course of justice and police allege that she insulted police officers - a charge she denies. Also arrested at the time were four of Tsvangirai's aides, who are facing dubious charges of impersonating a police officer.

Further exposing the Zanu-PF's unwillingness to embrace the new dispensation, the high court passed a judgment that Mtetwa be released, but the police defied the order. On Monday, after eight nights spent in jail, the high court granted Mtetwa a US$500 bail. A judge ruled that the lower court erred in refusing her bail.

Moving away from the dark past?

The creation of an inclusive government in 2008 had signaled an acceptance by Zimbabwe's three leading political parties of the need for a host of reforms before the next elections. For one, the parties agreed on a need for media reforms. Moving away from the dark past, they were to address the country's skewed news coverage, where one political party benefits from praise by the national broadcaster as other parties get demonized.

And, yes, there was consensus that a number of the country's political problems stemmed from an old, outdated constitution. Hence, the need for a pre-election revision. This, however, is turning out to be a game by the political elites and at the expense of civilians. Though endorsed by close to 95 percent of the voters, the constitution has been criticized for leaving too much power in the Office of the President - a president who may end up abusing that position to scuttle any dissenting voices.

In fact, it's becoming clear that Zanu-PF does not in any way aspire to abide by the new constitution it has feigned to desire. In my opinion, it will merely regard the document as an ordinary paper - one that could never restrain liberation war party hoodlums from unleashing a reign of terror in the run-up to this year's elections.

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