Maputo — The Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, is edging towards amending the country's constitution, but with vocal opposition from the main opposition party, the former rebel movement Renamo.
On the proposal of the parliamentary group of the ruling Frelimo Party, an ad-hoc commission was set up to draft constitutional amendments in 2010. But Renamo refused to take up the seats reserved for it on the commission, and every time the chairperson of the commission, Eduardo Mulembue, delivered a report to the Assembly plenary, the entire Renamo group left the chamber.
On Friday, it was slightly different. This time Renamo listened to Mulembue's report, and a senior Renamo deputy, Leopoldo Ernesto, made a short speech denouncing the commission and the proposed amendments. Only then did the Renamo group leave their seats and make for the doors.
Ernesto had two contradictory objections to the work of the ad-hoc commission. He said the amendments proposed were so minor and trifling that they did not justify the large amounts of money spent by the ad-hoc commission. It was “an aberration” and the money could have been spent on improving the country's health and education services.
His second objection was that the Constitution was being changed “unilaterally” and this could “plunge the country into chaos”. Renamo thus wanted to have it both ways - claiming on the one hand that the draft amendments are an irrelevant waste of money, and on the other that they are so controversial that they will lead to chaos.
The accusation that Frelimo is behaving “unilaterally” makes little sense - first because the other parliamentary opposition party, the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM) is represented on the ad-hoc commission and has played a full role in its work, and second because Renamo has not been excluded from the commission, but has refused to take part in it.
Nonetheless Ernesto's talk of plunging the country into chaos was clearly making some deputies nervous. MDM deputy Alcinda da Conceicao suggested that in order to seek “consensus”, any vote on the amendments should be delayed until a new parliament, elected in the general elections scheduled for 15 October, takes office.
Mulembue found grounds for optimism in the fact that, for the first time, Renamo had participated in the debate. He believed there was still time for everyone to be involved in passing “a consensual constitution”.
In reality, there is not much time at all. The current sitting of the Assembly is now scheduled to end next Tuesday - even if it is extended by a few days, it must clearly end before 31 August, which is when the campaign for the general elections begins.
The amendments to the constitution touch on nothing fundamental. The system of governance, and the rights and freedoms of citizens are left essentially unchanged. Mulembue insisted that this is a question of improving the existing constitution, and not writing a new one.
During the public debate on the constitution, held in meetings across the country, and in written contributions sent to the commission, proposals that challenged the fundamentals of the constitution were rejected. Mulembue revealed that recently the ad-hoc commission had rejected proposals to set up a religious state, a federal state and to alter the republican form of government.
Such proposals, he said, suggested “moments of constitutional rupture, moments that are historical and revolutionary turning points, which is not the case with Mozambique”.