President’s powers whittled down

Faith Zaba

THE sweeping executive powers which President Robert Mugabe currently enjoys have been severely curtailed in the draft constitution, which is all but complete, bringing closer to an end the era of his imperial presidency largely blamed for ruining the country.
The latest Copac draft constitution, seen by the Zimbabwe Independent, and which will soon be presented to the three inclusive government principals, whittles down Mugabe’s powers and distributes them to other arms of goverment.
The current executive presidency, crafted by the late Zanu PF legal secretary Eddison Zvobgo, gives the incumbent president almost unfettered powers and control over all the arms of government.

 

These powers, contained in an amendment to the current Lancaster House constitution, ensures the president takes precedence over other Zimbabweans and institutions, making him unaccountable. It gives the incumbent the prerogative to virtually make unilateral appointments to key positions of power in government: from judges, defence and security chiefs, to provincial governors and heads of commissions on corruption, elections, public service and several others.

 

What makes the situation worse is that there are no presidential term limits, which is why Mugabe has been in power for 32 years without a break.

 

However, the new draft constitution tries to hold the president firmly accountable to the people and limits his powers. It says executive authority is derived from the people and power is shared between the president and cabinet.

 

The president, whose maximum term limit would now be 10 years, is given a series of obligations to make him a uniting rather than dividing force. He is now constitutionally expected to promote unity and peace in the country; ensure protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms; observe the rule of law and respect the diversity of the people and communities of Zimbabwe — fundamental departures from the current constitution.

 

Unlike under the current constitution where government business grounds to a halt if Mugabe is away, the draft constitution has made provisions that would ensure one of the vice-presidents or a minister, designated to do so by the president or nominated by the cabinet, would chair cabinet when he is unable to.

 

 

The president can no longer make unilateral appointments of judges, provincial governors, permanent secretaries, prosecutor-general and the anti-corruption, electoral, human rights, media, gender and national peace and reconciliation commissions.

 
The appointment of the chief justice, the deputy chief justice, the judge president of the High Court, prosecutor-general and all other judges will now be done by the president from a list of three nominees submitted by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC).

 
Whenever there is a vacancy, the JSC must advertise the vacancy and invite applications, invite the president and the public to make nominations and then conduct public interviews, after which it will submit a list of three nominees to the president.

 
Parliament will now play a major role in the appointment of independent commissions, such as those on anti-corruption, elections, human rights, media, gender and national peace and reconciliation. The president will now appoint from a list submitted by the committee on Standing Rules and Orders.

 
The draft constitution proposes for the setting up of eight provincial councils headed by a governor and the Harare and Bulawayo metropolitan councils headed by a mayor.
The governor will be appointed by the president from the party with the highest number of National Assembly seats in the province or if there is no clear winner, he or she will be from a political party which received the highest number of votes cast in the province in the general elections for MPs. The president will ask those parties to submit the names of two qualified person for the appointment of provincial governor of that province.

 
The draft proposes whenever appropriate, governmental powers and responsibilities would be devolved to provincial and metropolitan councils and local authorities – something which safeguards against over-concentration of power.

 
Members of the provincial councils include all MPs in the National Assembly and senate in the province, chairperson of all urban and rural local councils. The
provincial councillors will be elected under a party-list system on proportional representation.

 
A declaration of war or peace by the president must be revoked unless it is approved by a resolution passed within seven sitting days by a joint sitting of the Senate and National Assembly, while a state of emergency could only be declared after approval by at least two-thirds of a joint sitting of the Senate and National Assembly.
The draft constitution also takes care of the transitional mechanisms in the event that a president is incapacitated or resigns from office, which is complicated under the current constitution.

 
In order to ensure smooth transition, every presidential candidate would be required to nominate two persons to stand for election jointly with him or her as vice-presidents – running mates – and must designate one of them as his or her candidate for first vice-president and the other as the second vice-president.
The president and vice-presidents would be directly elected jointly in a general election.

 
If the president dies or resigns or is removed from office, the first vice-president takes an oath within 48 hours after becoming president. The first vice-president assumes office as president until the expiry of the former president’s term and the second vice-president then takes over as first vice-president. Upon assuming office, the former first vice-president must appoint a qualified person to be second vice-president.