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MDC demands no longer feasible

Orirando Manwere

THE MDC, currently engaged in talks with Zanu PF to resolve the country’s political and economic crisis under the Sadc initiative, should have bee

n steadfast from the onset in pushing for a people-driven constitution instead of calling for one two months before harmonised elections, analysts have said.

The analysts said it was not feasible to have a new constitution unless the polls were postponed to a later date.

They have further pointed out that the alternative call by the MDC for the adoption of a transitional constitution crafted under the Sadc talks was “totally unacceptable and undemocratic” as “it is a secret document which Zimbabweans are not aware of”.

National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) chairperson Lovemore Madhuku said the future of Zimbabwe could not be resolved through secret talks between the ruling Zanu PF and the MDC.

He argued that civic society and other political parties and the general populace should participate in the negotiations if a permanent solution to the country’s problems was to be found.

Following reports of a deadlock over the postponement of the elections to facilitate the crafting of a new constitution, the MDC this week organised a “Freedom March for a New Zimbabwe” in Harare to press for a new constitution, free and fair elections, provision of food and jobs, among other things. The march was later banned by police but a rally was allowed outside the city centre.

The MDC formations have not been clear which particular constitution they are advocating after endorsing Constitutional Amendment No 18 in September last year to pave way for harmonised elections in March. They also supported amendments to the information, security and electoral laws which were enacted last week.

After the passing of Constitutional Amendment No 18 by parliament, negotiators in the talks, Welshman Ncube and Tendai Biti, representing the MDC factions, and Zanu PF’s Patrick Chinamasa said the parties had passed the first hurdle in resolving the national crisis.

They said outstanding issues, including the question of a new constitution, would be dealt with in due course.

However, the opposition is now calling for a new constitution before the elections and threatens to boycott the polls if Zanu PF does not budge. Biti, the secretary-general of the Morgan Tsvangirai-led formation of the MDC, told journalists at a press briefing on Monday that the party wanted a new constitution or the one agreed under the Sadc talks.

“We are demanding a people-driven constitution, if not a new one agreed signed on September 30 in Kariba. We want to protect our right to vote under free and fair conditions,” he said.

Asked what the party was doing to publicise the Kariba constitution, Biti said: “We will soon issue a press statement on that. I cannot comment more on that issue.”

Madhuku said the MDC made a mistake by endorsing the Constitutional Amendment No 18 Bill and that it was not practical to have a new constitution before the elections in March.

On the one signed in Kariba, Madhuku said it was unacceptable as people were not consulted and no one knew its contents.

“We cannot have four people sitting down and coming up with a constitution for the whole country. For that reason, as NCA, we are not taking part in that march because we do not want to cause confusion among people,” Madhuku said.

Zimbabwe Election Support Network national director, Rindai Chipfunde-Vava, echoed Madhuku’s sentiments and pointed out that there was no time to come up with a new constitution before the elections.

“That would require the setting up of a constitutional commission and holding of a referendum and that cannot be done within two months. There is need to postpone the elections. Why rush and end up with a disputed election?” Chipfunde-Vava asked.

She said Zimbabweans were not aware of the so-called transitional constitution and the parties involved were obliged to inform the people about it if there was any attempt to have it adopted.

The Zesn boss said civic society was sticking to the resolutions adopted at an all- stakeholders conference in Bulawayo last year that the Sadc mediation had not taken into account the input of ordinary Zimbabweans, hence they were flawed.

The executive director of the Public Affairs and Parliamentary Support Trust, Michael Mature, said it was unfortunate that the Sadc dialogue which had achieved so much during the past year, was about to hit a snag.

He said as far as he understood the agreements leading to the adoption of the Constitutional Amendment No 18 Bill, there was no express clause on a new constitution.

Mataure, a former Zanu PF lawmaker, said the issue of a new constitution was still on the agenda of the talks, according to presentations by the parties involved.

“My understanding is that Amendment No 18 Bill was passed to pave way for the holding of harmonised elections under amended laws like Posa, Aippa, the Broadcasting Services Act and the Electoral Act which have since been enacted,” he said.

“I don’t remember coming across a clause on the need for a new constitution or a transitional one being talked about. The problem is people had already dismissed the process despite all the effort and time spent.”

He said there was need to “do one thing at a time”.

“The fact that the two parties had spent so much time on the negotiating table and agreed to adopt the constitutional amendment shows that there was progress and it’s unfortunate that we are likely to have a repeat of what happened in 2000 when the constitution- making process did not achieve anything,” said Mataure.

A Harare lawyer who requested not to be named said although Zimbabwe needed a new constitution, this could not be achieved just before the elections.

He said the MDC should decide on whether or not to contest the elections.

“They (MDC) made a mistake at the outset of Sadc-brokered talks. They should have demanded a new democratic and people-driven constitution. By endorsing the amendments, they have legitimised the process and it is too late for them to start talking about a new constitution which civic society has always agitated for,” he said, adding that “even the transitional constitution was not acceptable”.

He said the MDC should re-engage civic society and mount a fresh campaign for a new constitution even after the polls, as it was certain that the government would not postpone the elections for a new constitutional process.

The lawyer said there was need for concerted efforts by the opposition and civic society to engage Sadc leaders to adopt a set of guidelines on constitutionalism and the constitution-making process in the region proposed by the Sadc Lawyers Forum in Harare last year to help solve the crisis in Zimbabwe and member countries.

The guidelines form the basis of a proposed draft constitution for the region which is being co-ordinated by NCA chairperson Madhuku.

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