Party agendas hold sway in constitution process

POLITICAL parties in the shaky coalition government are hoodwinking Zimbabweans into believing that the constitution-making process is people-driven, but a closer look indicates that the politicians’ will is prevailing.

The constitution-making process has been reduced to a boxing arena between rival parties and the clashes will affect the outcome, analysts have said.
During the outreach exercise, Zanu PF and MDC-T supporters were coached to read from their own scripts and analysts say the recent violent clashes confirm that the political parties are pushing for their own interests, leaving non-partisan Zimbabweans out of the process.

Zimbabweans are disappointed, analysts say, by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s announcement that the new constitution is likely to be negotiated by political parties just like the Global Political Agreement (GPA).

Tsvangirai told a meeting in Harare on Monday that the outcome of the constitution-making process would have to be negotiated because no political party had a two-thirds majority in parliament to impose its will.

“All political parties took a position that they were going to take a partisan view on how the constitution will look like and that has caused problems,” he said.

Zanu PF and MDC-T supporters have been engaged in running battles during the outreach programme with political observers saying the constitution-making process had become an election before an election.

National Constitutional Assembly chairman Lovemore Madhuku described the process as a sham. He said politicians were not supposed to lead the crafting of the new supreme law.

“The MDC-T’s position that the new constitution should be negotiated is nonsense,” Madhuku said. “We have always said the formation of a constitution must be championed by an independent commission rather than politicians.”

London-based Zimbabwean journalist Innocent Chofamba Sithole said it was not surprising that Tsvangirai was lobbying for a negotiated constitution after the crafting of Kariba draft constitution by the inclusive government parties in the resort town, far away from the popular gaze.

The Kariba draft was signed on September 30 2007 and was crafted by Tendai Biti (MDC-T), Patrick Chinamasa (Zanu PF) and Welshman Ncube (MDC-M).

“It is no surprise that Tsvangirai should have no compunction now to suggest a negotiated settlement on the new constitution by the same group of politicians (who negotiated the Kariba draft),” said Sithole. “In both cases, it is important to recognise that Tsvangirai, like Mugabe, is acting purely in the interests of his party’s power ambitions. He chose to burn bridges with his civil society allies, including labour, in support of the government-led process that has now floundered spectacularly.”

Sithole said Tsvangirai will be judged harshly on the failure of constitutional reform, having founded MDC-T around a rallying call for a people-driven constitution. He said President Robert Mugabe’s opposition to popular participation to constitution-making was a matter of longstanding public record.
Mugabe has said the constitution will reflect the views of the political parties which are keen on protecting their political interests.

“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. We are the ones in power and we can’t give that away – Tsvangirai, would you?” said Mugabe during the constitution outreach programme launch in June.

Critics then questioned why the Constitution Parliamentary Committee (Copac) wasted donor funds pretending to gather people’s views when the final document will be packed by Zanu-PF, MDC-T and MDC views.

The negotiated constitution, Madhuku said, will be more of a tripartite dictatorship where three parties to the inclusive government will come up with a national charter, regardless of the contributions from the majority of Zimbabweans.

A new constitution is provided for under Article VI of the GPA where the parties acknowledged that it is a fundamental right and duty for Zimbabweans to make and own a constitution. Zimbabwe is currently using the 1979 Lancaster House Conference document that was designed to transfer power from the colonial power to Zimbabweans. The current constitution has been amended 19 times since Independence in 1980.

“The constitution should always reflect the views and interests of the people across the country,” said Madhuku.

Zapu spokesman Methuseli Moyo said the 1999 drafting of a constitution process was better than the current scenario; arguing that the Godfrey Chidyausiku-led Constitutional Commission was more independent, although biased towards Zanu PF, than this year’s flawed process led by MPs.
MPs, he said, were politicians who would ultimately push for their respective political parties’ interests.

Moyo said from the beginning of the process, it was clear the MDC-T and Zanu PF pretended to be soliciting people’s views when they were pushing for their selfish agendas.

“The MDC and Zanu PF have been fighting in the outreach process, but the MDC is holding the short end of the stick and that’s why they are complaining. How can Tsvangirai now say the process is not credible as if it was credible from the onset?” he said.

Tsvangirai told a press conference last week that the constitution-making exercise was a mess due to violence that gripped Chitungwiza and Harare, leading to the suspension of outreach meetings. The premier also expressed discontent with the militarisation of the process where rural areas were allegedly under siege from the military and state security agents.

“The whole constitution-making exercise has ignored other political parties and civil society. The MDC-T now sees the light belatedly because they are failing to handle Zanu PF,” said Moyo.

The Zapu spokesman said there were many Zimbabweans who were not interested in politics, but were keen on key social issues like education and have not been given a chance to express their views in the crafting of the supreme law.

Zanu PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo defended his party’s stance on the new constitution saying there was nothing wrong with coaching supporters to advance his party agenda.

“It can only be a problem if Zanu PF stops MDC-M or MDC-T supporters from airing their views,” he said. “The constitution-making process has nothing to do with politics; it’s a national issue.”

Gumbo said the inclusive government principals will meet soon to decide the next course of action after outreach meetings were suspended due to violence in Mbare and Chitungwiza.

Mutambara has said political parties do not write a constitution.

He said: “Political parties and government create an enabling environment where the people write their own constitution. Zimbabwe is bigger than the three political parties. There are parties that are not in the GPA, more importantly there are people who are not members of any political party.”

Activists maintain that a constitution should provide for social, economic and civil rights while giving a clear separation of powers between the executive, judiciary and legislature. Some of the issues that activists are lobbying for include limitation of the powers of the executive.

Admore Tshuma, an expert on transitional justice, said the violence showed that Mugabe and his colleagues have failed to adjust from the bush war behavioural attitude to a civilian one which is an essential attribute to running a successful government.

“With violence intermittently dogging the constitutional process, it will be a miracle if the process ever turns out to be effective, credible and valid because violence compromises the process,” Tshuma said. “Violence instills fear in the populace and it is the duty of Mugabe to ensure a violence-free constitutional process. If we cannot ensure a violence-free constitutional-making process then it’s a disaster with elections.”

He said the whole process was flawed and should be suspended indefinitely to allow stakeholders to re-strategise.

“If the process is allowed to continue as problematic as it is, it clearly means that Zimbabwe won’t be able to produce a constitution that reflects the will of the people in general. It would be a Zanu PF constitution, and they might as well utilise it at Zanu PF headquarters,” said Tshuma.

 

Brian Chitemba

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