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Constitution: Parties out to impose positions

AS ZIMBABWE embarks on the constitution outreach programme this week, there is a general fear that the process will be about the entrenched positions of the main political parties rather than genuine popular choices.

With reports of intense campaigning and even intimidation analysts are wondering if the process will enable people to truly express their wishes and expectations.  
Analysts interviewed by the Zimbabwe Independent said the outreach process will not capture the ordinary person’s preferences as the main political parties are out with their entrenched positions that they want to impose.

They are concerned that the process might turn into a contest for political dominance between the two main political parties which are advocating divergent systems of government.
The analysts have raised questions as to whether the views of ordinary Zimbabweans would be captured and how the party positions would impact on the process and its outcome.
Political analyst Trevor Maisiri, who is executive director of the African Reform Institute, said constitutional processes are supposed to appeal to the citizenry and not their political-party affiliates.
He said the danger in Zimbabwe was that Zanu PF, MDC-T and MDC-M were all out to create temporary reprieves in the constitution that will ensure the attainment of their short-term quests for governance or sustained political dominance.

“This is dangerous because we will end up with a constitution that is only relevant to the political parties’ perceptions and only serve their short-term desires. If you critically analyse the positions of the parties, maybe except for MDC-M, they are all focusing on attaining immediate gains from their pre-supposed positions on the constitution,” Maisiri said.
“We will end up with a constitution that is political party aligned but without due relevance in the next 30 years or so. The momentary pressure of our political situation has forced the political parties to focus on a constitution that is targeted towards personalities, geared primarily towards the next election and outrightly devoid of participatory principles.”

Political analyst Ernest Mudzengi, formerly with the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), said there was no guarantee that there would be meaningful participation by the people.
“The ordinary person is not being empowered. This is a tug of war between MDC and Zanu PF like in the initial negotiated agreement (global political agreement). The ordinary people are being left out, which is a continuation of the elitist negotiation process between Zanu PF and MDC.”
Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara said at the launch of the outreach programme last week that a country’s constitution should be immortal and should be crafted to benefit future generations.
He gave the example of the American constitution, which was adopted in 1787 and has been amended 27 times. Norway’s ground law was passed in 1814.

Mutambara questioned the absence of other political parties like Zapu and Mavambo/Kusile, church leaders and civic leaders at the top table during the launch of the outreach programme.
Analysts said Zimbabweans should remember that the constitution should never be written to deal with current political problems and should not be about individuals.
An official with MDC-M said: “The problem is that people are looking at individuals — they are looking at (Robert) Mugabe and (Morgan) Tsvangirai. People will speak but I don’t know if their views will be recognised — it will be a question of them saying the people have spoken but we don’t like what they have said.”

In response to Mutambara’s call for an all-inclusive participation, Mugabe said the main voices during the outreach progammes would be those of the three political parties in the inclusive government.
He said: “Let them be heard (referring to other parties) but at the end of the day, the main voice will be ours because the people have chosen us. Hatingarambi kutonga — nhai va Tsvangirai mungarambe kutonga. (We are the ones in power and we can’t give that away — Tsvangirai would you?)
Mugabe’s comments, analysts said, were a cause for concern because the process should not be about partisan politics but a democratic consultation where people are able to determine what kind of a constitution they want.

Constitutional lawyer Lovemore Madhuku of NCA said Mugabe has been consistent and has repeatedly said the views of ordinary people did not matter.
“Zanu PF’s position will find its way into the constitution and the only way to change that would be through a referendum. I don’t see Zanu PF compromising on having all powerful executive powers for the president,” he said.
Mudzengi concurred when he said Zanu PF would not compromise on its position regarding the executive, as evidenced by the intimidation and violence being reported across the country.
“Zanu PF has told people what to say and some have been told not to speak. Zanu PF wants to democratise the Kariba draft constitution,” he said.

Maisiri said the country was likely to be faced with protracted disagreements in the compilation of the draft constitution as the parties try to ensure that their positions emerge in the draft document, regardless of the views expressed by the people during the outreach programme.
“If we go past that stage, then the referendum itself will depict battles that we have always known during elections since 2000. The parties will either come out strong to campaign for or against the draft constitution, depending on how clearly it represents the presumed and divided positions.”
MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa said the constitution would be determined by the people through the referendum.

“The three voices will be the people, the people, the people. They will still have a referendum to make a decision,” he said.
According to recent press reports, war veterans’ leader Jabulani Sibanda has been forcing villagers, traditional leaders and government workers to attend campaign meetings in parts of Manicaland, ahead of the constitutional outreach programme and telling them that the Kariba draft constitution was a matter of “life or death” for Zanu PF.

The MDC-T has accused Zanu PF of setting up militia bases to intimidate people from speaking during the outreach programme in what is being referred to as “Operation Chimumumu”.
However, Zanu PF has repeatedly denied this, saying it was untrue.
Chamisa said: “We are beginning to get reports from across the whole country. The demon of violence is manifesting itself and we are going to take up these issues with the principals on the basis that they denounced violence.”
Maisiri accused the three main political parties in the inclusive government, Zanu PF, MDC-T and MDC-M of falling into the temptation of political dishonesty by trying to influence the writing of the constitution.


Faith Zaba


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