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MDC concessions basket still empty

Augustine Mukaro

THE opposition MDC is yet to wring any meaningful concessions from Zanu PF in the on-going Sadc-initiated talks despite embracing Constitutional Amendment

No 18 Bill as a step towards resolving the political impasse and the economic crisis in the country.

The only breakthrough for the MDC so far was to bring Zanu PF to the negotiating table.

Critics and civil groups this week questioned the opposition’s commitment to changing the status quo following its endorsement of the amendment.

The groups wanted to know what the opposition party was doing to ensure that people would not be harassed and tortured by Zanu PF’s youth militia in the run-up to the elections. They questioned whether the amendment would force Zanu PF to observe the rule of law, or stop the abuse of food aid by traditional leaders as a way of swaying the vote in its favour.

Civil groups also pointed out that the moving of presidential appointees from the House of Assembly would not dilute President Robert Mugabe’s grip on power or his ability to influence the voting process.

The opposition has however argued that their action was based on the commitment to South Africa President Thabo Mbeki-mediated talks and by agreeing to Amendment 18, the opposition had paved the way for the likelihood of a new constitution.

It argues that all the outstanding concerns would be addressed in the ongoing discussions around the electoral laws, repressive laws, media laws and the political environment.

The MDC said it had concurred with Amendment No 18 because Zanu PF had agreed that there would be no more appointments to the House of Assembly as all members will now be directly elected.

“The presidential appointees have been a thorn in the flesh as it gave the incumbent president a head start of 30 unelected MPs before the elections have even begun,” the MDC Mutambara formation said in a statement. “These have now been whittled down to five only in the senate. More importantly, the management of elections will now be conducted by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission from start to finish, dealing a heavy blow to Zanu PF’s rigging mechanism which relied heavily on (Tobaiwa) Mudede.”

It said it was not a new phenomenon that a president is elected by parliament to complete the tenure of an elected one in the event of a resignation or for some other reason. The British and the Americans have similar provisions with the South Africans electing their president in parliament.

“There should not be any confusion over the week’s events in parliament,” the statement said. “We are on a war for democracy. Don’t be confused about what happened in parliament. It’s a process to ensure there are free and fair elections to fight it out and defeat Mugabe. Don’t get any illusions. It is not the time for celebrations; it’s time to fight the democratic war in Zimbabwe.”

However, civic organisations such as the National Constitutional Assembly and Crisis Coalition of Zimbabwe argued that there was nowhere in the amendment where it was stated that there would be an independent electoral commission.

They further argued that Mugabe still has power to appoint 15 senators, not five as claimed by the MDC. Apart from that, 18 chiefs would be in the senate and are known to be loyal to Mugabe.

The civic organisations also questioned where a president elected by parliament sitting as an electoral college would draw his or her legitimacy from.

The only route, the organisations argued, would be a new people-driven constitution.

Below were the MDC’s demands for the Sadc talks:

* The need to put a stop to political violence and intimidation in order to create favourable conditions for proper negotiations and for elections;

The need for a new constitutional order prior to elections;

The need to ensure that all Zimbabweans over 18 can exercise their right to vote;

The need for impartial and transparent management of electoral processes;

The need for a full audit of all the electoral processes at all key stages;

The need to ensure a speedy and impartial resolution of electoral disputes and complaints;

The need for impartial policing during the elections;

The need to restore the right of political parties to hold peaceful meetings and rallies;

The need to prevent political abuse by the military, the intelligence agencies and the youth militia:

The need to prevent political abuse of the powers of traditional leaders: The need to prevent political abuse of food aid;

The need to ensure the full realisation of media freedom for both public and private media and for political parties to have equitable access to the public media:

The need for extensive and credible observation of elections;*l The need for election agents and monitors to have free access to polling stations at all times during voting and counting;

The need to prevent political parties from abusing state resources for campaigning.

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