Stakeholders’ forum: A recipe for disaster

FOLLOWING the release of the shoddy, if controversial, Copac draft constitution produced by the three political parties in the coalition government through an inherently-flawed and non-inclusive process on July 18, so much has been happening.
The draft has been subjected to close scrutiny mainly in elite circles and found to be inadequate in many respects, despite attempts by its architects to defend it. It is, of course, better than the current compromise Lancaster House constitution, although it is clearly defective and substandard. The three parties conspired to exclude other key stakeholders from the parliament-driven process and inevitably produced a contentious document.

 
The situation has been exacerbated by the Zanu PF politburo’s attempts to rewrite the Copac draft, something that will make it worse. After some wrangling, principals met on Wednesday to discuss possible dates for the second all-stakeholders’ conference.

 
The Zanu PF politburo — which recently spent close to 50 hours day and night revising the draft — met again last week and agreed the constitution-making process must proceed to the stakeholders’ conference, which might come early next month after President Robert Mugabe’s return from United Nations General Assembly in New York. However, principals will have to sort out the situation before that to avoid chaos.

 
This brings us to the issue of the stakeholders’ conference. What is the real purpose of the meeting in the first place, apart from fulfilling a Global Political Agreement (GPA) obligation and trying to purchase legitimacy for the unsound draft through the backdoor? If the three parties wanted an inclusive process, what stopped them from ensuring that at the beginning?

 
Even though Copac is set to take its charade — costly as it is shambolic — to the conference where its dubious 150-page draft constitution would come under scrutiny from about 2 000 delegates, there is no hope of progress after that.
The exercise, characterised by partisan political interests, inordinate delays, organisational ineptitude and weak leadership, could be heading for yet another round of chaos. The stakeholders’ conference is likely to be worse than the first one in July 2009.

 
The three parties will head to the conference geared for a fight. The two MDC formations seem to be fighting from the same corner after endorsing the draft and launching a “Vote Yes” campaign while Zanu PF is preparing for battle at the meeting where it might unleash mayhem.

 
In 2009, Zanu PF and MDC officials and supporters clashed, throwing chairs and glasses all over the show even when the process was at its inception. Now that the situation has changed and so much is at stake politically and battle lines are drawn, there are likely to be bitter wrangles at the conference. The dispute over the national report is also likely to explode there. Zanu PF wants to take the report to the conference to back its demand for amendments to the draft, but the other parties are resisting it, saying that would take the process rearward and create new problems.

 
It is against such an ominous background that the stakeholders’ conference will come. Throw in a hitherto excluded civil society representation expected to make up 70% of the delegates and a Zanu PF itching to impose its 266 amendments — designed to restore the constitutional status quo and allow President Robert Mugabe to keep his imperial powers ahead of elections — you have a perfect recipe for another high-profile Copac fiasco in the waiting. The conference is likely to explode into a political disaster, with far-reaching consequences to preparations for free and fair elections.

 
How Copac expects so many delegates to negotiate a disputed document, over a day or two and reach anything remotely resembling consensus is a mystery, especially given that the three parties, through their principals and negotiators, can now hardly agree on anything with elections approaching.

 
If the parties take an already agreed-upon draft — within the admittedly self-serving framework of Copac — to the conference, it would simply further confirm the process is not inclusive as other stakeholders, who are just window-dressers anyway, would be presented with a fait accompli.

 
In July 2009, when the stakes were much lower, drama unfolded when Zanu PF thugs disrupted the first all-stakeholders’ conference at a local hotel, throwing furniture and missiles around, hurling abuse and singing party songs and chanting party slogans; all this in front of police who stood by and watched the political drama. It is clear we are heading in the same direction.

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