Millennium Post

A strong man’s governance

A draft constitution just finalised by Zimbabwe lawmakers as part of key reforms ahead of elections is a flawed compromise that will have little effect.

The proposed document, which will be subject to a referendum, was crafted by experts from the main political parties to a power-sharing government that has been in place since a violence-marred 2008 election.

President Robert Mugabe, in power for 32 years, was forced into the power-sharing deal with arch rival Morgan Tsvangirai to avoid a descent into bloody conflict.

The final draft curtails presidential powers and limits terms to 10 years.

Under the draft plans there is however no age limit for the president, meaning Mugabe could seek another mandate under its terms.

Mugabe, 88, is now trying to get out of the power-sharing deal and has in recent months been pushing for new elections without a new constitution.

But the southern African regional leaders who brokered the post-electoral peace deal appeared to have impressed on him at a June summit that elections must take place under a new constitution.
Lovemore Madhuku, a legal expert at the University of Zimbabwe, sees the draft as an unsatisfactory compromise between negotiators from the parties in the power-sharing government.

‘It retains an executive president. That’s not what the people said during the outreach programme. In fact, the people don’t even know the meaning of some of the things that are in the constitution,’ he said.

‘From us it’s a clear ‘No’ vote.’

Jonathan Moyo, a member of parliament from Mugabe’s ZANU-PF, said the draft lacked legitimacy because the drafting process by the political parties excluded other players.

The government-owned Sunday Mail newspaper said that even if the draft sails through the referendum, whenever that will be, the constitution ‘will most definitely be challenged and thrown away by future generations’.

Despite debate on allowing same-sex marriage and ending capital punishment, the draft defines marriage as between a man and a woman and maintains the death penalty– though not for women or anyone over age 70.

It provides for citizenship by birth, descent or registration but does not allow dual citizenship.

The draft also provides for compensation for white farmers who were forced off their land under Mugabe’s controversial land reforms and protects the property rights of the new farmers.

Nevanji Madanhire, editor of the privately owned Standard newspaper, said: ‘The new constitution... should be a blueprint for the correction of all that has gone wrong with our country’.

‘But the amount of compromise the latest draft shows means the country is ready to continue with the same.’

Eric Matinenga, a minister from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) responsible for constitutional affairs said, ‘We have had one president since 1980 and it is the feeling of most people that this has been the biggest weakness of the country.’

He added, ‘The draft recognises that gone are the days when governance was entrusted in the hand of the ‘strong man’.’

The draft constitution provides for a vice president to take over if the president dies, resigns or becomes incapacitated.

This, according to some analysts, deals with the succession battles in Zanu PF and forces Mugabe to choose a successor.

The new rules would also require the head of state to consult parliament and the cabinet on key appointments, alongside fixing term limits for both the presidency and the executive, said Matinenga.

It protects a serving president from prosecution, but the immunity falls away when the head of state leaves office, another concern for Mugabe.

The new document, which has been worked on for three years, will be put to a public conference at the end of August and then to a referendum at a date yet to be announced.

The constitution-making was characterised by bickering including the disruption of the first stakeholders conference by militant supporters of Mugabe’s party and the death of a member of Tsvangirai’s party during the outreach to gather people’s input into the charter.

European Union ministers, hoping to encourage the reform process, are set to resume aid and suspend most of the EU’s sanctions against Zimbabwe once the referendum on the new constitution has been organised, diplomatic sources said.

They would however maintain sanctions against a ‘small core’ of people including Mugabe. The ministers meet on Monday.
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