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Mugabe makes new proposals

Dumisani Muleya

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is now pinning his hopes on constitutional reform to extricate himself from the current crisis.

l, Helvetica, sans-serif”>High-level sources privy to the ongoing talks between Zanu PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said Mugabe is behind the ruling party’s efforts to revive the constitutional issue as part of his bid to find an exit plan that allows him to go with dignity.

The sources said Mugabe wants an amendment to the current constitution or the drawing up of a new one that would provide ring-fencing measures to protect him from prosecution for human rights abuses. It is understood Mugabe would, if the talks restart any time now and progress is made, relinquish the Zanu PF leadership in December during the party’s annual conference but remain as head of state until fresh elections are held by June next year.

The June time frame for fresh polls emerged after United States President George Bush’s meeting with South African President Thabo Mbeki on July 9.

Contemplated changes would also revive the post of prime minister enabling Mugabe to retain the ceremonial post of head of state while conceding day-to-day authority to either his designated successor as party leader or an MDC official.

Mugabe recently said he did not mind which system of government was in place although he preferred the American-style presidential system. Thabo Mbeki who has been trying for the past three years to broker a solution to Zimbabwe’s seemingly intractable crisis was said to have indicated to a senior regional official recently that Mugabe wants to retire as Zanu PF leader in December.

Mbeki has of late been trying to placate Mugabe to ensure he remains on the path to dialogue. In July Mbeki was reported to have engineered Mugabe’s appointment as one of the five deputy chairs of the African Union in Mozambique as part of a wider propitiation policy.

Sources said Pretoria would also ensure Zimbabwe is not discussed at the forthcoming Sadc meeting in Tanzania and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Nigeria in December, thus removing Mugabe from divisive and unflattering controversy.

The constitutional debate has now moved to the centre of the ongoing dialogue between the two parties aimed at breaking the political impasse. Zanu PF now wants to table the constitutional issue currently being considered informally when talks that broke down in May last year officially resume. The MDC is amenable to constitutional change but its position is that there has to be an interim document instead of a final one to facilitate transition to democratic legitimacy.

Although Zanu PF is pressing for a signed and sealed constitutional deal in a bid to secure immunity guarantees for Mugabe, the MDC is resisting the idea because it says only a popularly elected government can bring about a genuine new constitution. The MDC’s position is similar to the African National Congress’s stance at the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa) from 1991-93.

The opposition, whose civic society allies are anxious to ensure constitutional reform before a new political dispensation, recently raised the issue in its report to church mediators.

“A programme for comprehensive constitutional reform is necessary and must be agreed upon so as to remove some of the major sources of political instability and contestation in the country,” the MDC said. “Such constitutional reform should guide us in returning to legitimacy.”

The constitutional reform initiative is seen as the only way out for Mugabe now. The MDC’s ally, the National Constitutional Assembly, has argued that a constitutional review should take precedence over politics, as it is the only route towards the restoration of democracy upon which political and economic stability rest.

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