10 May 2013

Zimbabwe: Constitutional Bill Sails Through

Photo: IRIN
President Robert Mugabe.

THE Constitutional Amendment (No. 20) Bill passed through the House of Assembly yesterday amid jubilation punctuated by song and dance as legislators celebrated a historic achievement for Zimbabwe. All the 156 legislators who attended yesterday's session overwhelmingly voted for the Bill, exceeding the 144 statutory requirement which is two-thirds of the 210 members required to pass a Constitutional Bill.

The Bill will now be tabled in the Senate next Tuesday where it is expected to pass without incident as the three parties have already taken a position to pass the Bill despite earlier spirited attempts by some members of the MDC formations to stall the process.

Once the Upper House endorses the Bill, it will then be forwarded to President Mugabe for his assent before he proclaims the date for the holding of harmonised elections that are constitutionally due before the expiry of the life of the Seventh Parliament at midnight on June 29.

Yesterday's sitting started with the Bill going through the Committee stage chaired by Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly Mrs Nomalanga Khumalo, with the whole House convening as a committee to consider all the clauses of the Bill and amendments proposed by the management committee.

At one stage, members of the Copac management committee had to withdraw from the House for a brief meeting to consider a clause that a backbencher had raised that he claimed created contradictions.

Makoni West legislator Mr Webbo Chinyadza (MDC-T) raised the issue, resulting in Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Eric Matinenga, who was steering the Bill, requesting time to consult.

Mr Chinyadza had said Section 129 (g) that deals with the tenure of a member of Parliament was not consistent with Section (269) that deals with membership of provincial councils.

After a five-minute consultation, Minister Matinenga returned to report that the provision should sail through as there was no contradiction.

After all the legislators endorsed the clauses and the amendments, House Speaker, Mr Lovemore Moyo announced that the Constitution required that there should be a two-thirds affirmative vote before the Bill could be read for the Third time, a stage that would signal its passage.

Counting started led by chief whips for all the parties and staff of parliament.

During the counting, MPs could be seen taking pictures of each other, signalling their joy to be part of the historic event that was probably a goodbye to the House for others.

The process took long until Mr Moyo announced that the figures were not tallying and asked that the Clerk of Parliament, Mr Austin Zvoma call out names of legislators present as a counting method.

Once Mr Moyo announced that the Bill had received more than the two-third constitutional threshold, the House burst into song, and dance as legislators hugged and congratulated each other.

Notable among the dancers was Vice President Joice Mujuru, and several Government Ministers.

Copac co-chairpersons Cde Munyaradzi Paul Mangwana (Zanu-PF) and Mr Douglas Mwonzora (MDC-T) paid tribute to Zimbabweans across the political divide for putting national interests ahead of their personal differences

"Zimbabwe has re-written its history. We are happy that after a long journey we finally have this constitution. You can go through birth pains but if you have a successful birth like today when Zimbabwe has recreated itself you can only be happy and forget the past. We expected them in such a process but what is important is the unison, togetherness of political parties and the focus on the interests of the country.

"The constitution making process has been a unifying force, the parties have worked together throughout the process as has been confirmed by Parliament. The same spirit we had in Copac has been confirmed in Parliament," Cde Mangwana said.

Mr Mwonzora said they were elated that finally the draft constitution had been adopted by the House of Assembly.

"It is a great day for the people of Zimbabwe. What they directed has happened and we are happy that the House has passed this Bill. What is important is that this constitution must be put into operation. It is predicated upon 26 sacred principles and underlying those principles is the principle of equality," said Mr Mwonzora.

Zanu-PF legislator for Shurugwi South, Cde Annastancia Ndlovu hailed the passing of the Bill saying it cemented the historical objectives of the liberation struggle.

"It is clear that this Bill seeks to defend the gains of the liberation struggle as it seeks to grant people all the freedoms that they need. It is indeed a historic occasion for Zimbabwe as the passing of this Bill shows amazing tolerance among Zimbabweans. People have put national interests ahead of their personal interests.

"This Bill also recognises women as equal to their male counterparts in terms of opportunities for both men and women in leadership," said Cde Ndlovu.

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