Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Draft constitution retains powerful presidency

By Gift Phiri

HARARE – Lawmakers late on Monday presented the first consolidated draft Constitution to the management committee that would maintain the sweeping powers of Zimbabwe’s imperial-like presidency and abolish the post of Prime Minister.

Circulated widely, the draft could fall short of expectations of Zimbabweans who had hoped it would trim presidential powers that have turned President Robert Mugabe into a demi-god.
Circulated widely, the draft could fall short of expectations of Zimbabweans who had hoped it would trim presidential powers that have turned President Robert Mugabe into a demi-god.

The new constitution is expected to replace the current document cobbled at Lancaster House in London in December 1979 ending colonial rule in then-Rhodesia.

The present constitution has been amended 19 times, the last being in February 2009 to formally pave the way for the formation of the inclusive government that created the Prime Minister’s post for Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC leader.

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Circulated widely, the draft could fall short of expectations of Zimbabweans who had hoped it would trim presidential powers that have turned President Robert Mugabe into a demi-god.

The draft constitution, proposes retaining the all-powerful presidency, and has no age caps but says the incumbent must be at least 40 years of age. No one can serve for more than two terms under the proposed constitution.

It has a provision for one vice president and an alternative provision for two vice presidents. The draft has already caused disputes in the troubled inclusive government.

Some politicians, angry about various clauses in the draft, are threatening to rally their supporters to reject the new constitution when it goes before voters in a referendum. There are still a number of “parked” issues where there is no agreement on issues such as devolution.

The Daily News heard yesterday the management committee — comprising three of the six negotiators who drafted the global political agreement, Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, Elton Mangoma and Nicholas Goche — on Monday ironed out differences on issues such as land and citizenship.

Significantly, the draft constitution retains an executive president at a time many Zimbabweans wanted a new constitution that will whittle down the president’s powers, strengthen the role of Parliament, and guarantee civil liberties, political and media reforms.

A new constitution for Zimbabwe is an integral part of a power-sharing deal in 2008 after a disputed election erupted in widespread bloodshed. Many Zimbabweans blamed the all-powerful presidency and long festering governance issues for the violence, which killed more than 200 people, according to the MDC and seriously dented Zimbabwe’s image.

The draft constitution completed on Monday proposes abolishing the post of Prime Minister, for the second time. In 1987, the position of Prime Minister was abolished through a constitutional amendment and Mugabe assumed the new office of executive President of Zimbabwe gaining additional powers in the process.

Significantly, the draft Constitution removes prosecuting powers from the attorney general who becomes only a legal advisor to the President while a new National Prosecuting Authority is created.

The landmark change follows accusations that the current AG Johannes Tomana, a member of Mugabe’s Zanu PF, has targeted political opponents in actions that critics say threaten the rule of law and harms the integrity of the government. Meanwhile, the draft Constitution retains the death penalty but only for “aggravated murder.”

Civil rights activists had campaigned for an end to judicial executions. Pope John Paul II, during a visit to Zimbabwe in 1998, appealed to the government to abandon the death penalty, so has several churches here.

Several prisoners on death row have had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment after the Supreme Court ruled it inhuman to delay their execution. At Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison on the outskirts of Harare, there are 50 convicts who have been condemned to death by hanging.

The draft constitution prohibits gay marriage despite spirited attempts by the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (Galz) to respect and uphold the rights of all citizens despite sexual orientation as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Although President Mugabe is unpopular for his economic policies, his anti-gay stance resonates with many Zimbabweans. But some Zanu PF elements have always wanted to have gay rights in the constitution and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) which was crafted by political flip-flopper Jonathan Moyo to curtail media freedom, recognises gay rights.

Mugabe was hoodwinked into signing it into law. Even the constitutional pressure groups have failed to get Zimbabweans to accept homosexuality. Activists rejected proposals to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation during four-month public consultations in 2010.

Meanwhile, the draft constitution still aspires to give women a good deal on the question of gender parity in Parliament. While the draft acknowledges 50-50 representation, it also provides that Parliament shall not be rendered unconstitutional by failure to meet the envisaged 50-50.

There has been a lot of rhetoric in support of women’s equal participation in politics. But there are only 29 female parliamentarians in Zimbabwe. The draft constitution, which was written mostly by a committee of legislators and constitutional scholars, now moves to the second all-stakeholders conference.

The first all-stakeholders conference held on July 13, 2009, degenerated into chaos as riot police broke up clashes between rival delegates. The constitution-making-process, like the inclusive government, has been characterised by intense bickering, delays and frustrations.

Many Zimbabweans see a new constitution as the centerpiece of positive change in the country — there has been popular demand for this reform going back well before the 2002 presidential election. Zimbabwe’s last draft constitution was soundly defeated in 2000.

Political leaders are linking this moment in Zimbabwe’s history to the struggle for democracy, and to the determination to remove some of the underlying causes for the 2008 election mayhem. Yet, it is difficult to avoid the sense that the future of this project hangs in the balance given the saber-rattling from Zanu PF. Daily News