Succession: ‘After me, the deluge’

Derek Matyszak

THE theme of succession, both of the state presidency and the leadership of Zanu PF, increasingly bedevils all matters relating to the political stability of Zimbabwe and any form of transition to democracy.
The constitutional issues related to the death (or infirmity) of the president have been dealt with in several reports by Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU). In these reports it was noted that there are arguably two valid interpretations of the provisions in the state constitution in this regard: one is that a nominee “of” Zanu PF is simply appointed as the successor to President Robert Mugabe, the other is that both houses of parliament sit together as an electoral college and elect a nominee “of” Zanu PF as successor.

 
But providing that the nominee is “of” Zanu PF rather than “by or from” the party opens the door to several possibilities as to the nature of the nominee, including that the nominee may be “of” Zanu PF but not a member of that party.

 
This presents various possibilities and difficulties which may face the Clerk of Parliament who effectively plays the role of a nomination court.
However, if Zanu PF is to select the nominee in terms of its own constitution, further problems need to be considered. The party constitution is not well-known and only recently has a copy of the full, detailed constitution been available for independent analysis.

 
Using this copy, the structure of Zanu PF can be outlined, together with the powers, duties, and responsibilities of every structure within the party. Of particular importance are the powers related to elections and amendments of the party constitution. It is evident that there are a number of grey areas in respect of election to the office of any of the four posts in the Zanu PF presidium, including the post of president and first secretary. The clarity of the procedures leaves much to be desired and is a fertile area for dispute.

 

 

With an understanding of the applicable provisions, rules, and the powers of the various structures within Zanu PF, the question of election to the presidium can be analysed, and the important role of the Provincial Coordinating Committees (PCCs) described. The Zanu PF constitution stipulates that any candidate receiving nomination by six or more of the 10 provinces will be directly “elected” to the presidium, by the national people’s congress. It is unclear what happens if the congress refuses to “elect” the nominee chosen by the PCCs. It is also unclear what happens in the event of multiple nominations and splits between the PCCs.

 

 

More topically, the role of the DCCs (District Co-ordinating Committees) is outlined, with the understanding that the chairs of the various now dissolved DCCs comprised part of PCCs.

 

 

Hence, the dissolution of the DCCs has implications for the electoral process for the presidium, since, without the DCC chairmen represented on the PCC, any decision could run the risk of being legally challenged on the basis of that the body is improperly constituted.

 

This can have knock-on effect. Improperly constituted PCCs cannot make legal decisions, including nominating persons for election to the presidium. The difficulties (and the above is one example) become amplified in the situation where the Zanu PF constitutional and electoral machinery must conclude its processes within the 90 day or a shorter time-frame required by state constitution for voting in a parliamentary electoral college following the death or infirmity of the president. It seems that this would create a well-nigh impossible deadline for the internal Zanu PF procedures.

 

Although the national succession problem has yet to occur, there have been problems of succession within Zanu PF over the years, and these are analysed with respect to the Zanu PF constitution, especially the events related to deaths of previous members of the presidium — that of Joshua Nkomo in 1999, Simon Muzenda in 2003, and Joseph Msika in 2009.

 

 

The manner in which the replacements to posts in the presidium were made is considered as a possible indicator as to what might happen when the next vacancy in arises. Each of these deaths led to considerable internal conflict over succession, and, following the death of Muzenda, to the remarkable events of the “Tsholotsho Declaration” in 2004. The consequence of all of these events has led to an increased centralisation of power in the hands of the politburo, and the marginalisation of the democratic core of the Zanu PF constitution.

 

 

Nominations to the Zanu PF presidium have, to date, been determined, in the face of considerable resistance, by a process of “guided democracy” on instructions issued by a politburo controlled by Mugabe.

 

The question thus arises as to what will happen when the post to be filled is that of the “guide” — Mugabe himself. Several scenarios suggest themselves, and are considered.

 

The first is that the democratic processes set out in the Zanu PF constitution, and sidelined by Mugabe, will be reinvigorated and activated. However, as noted earlier, these very processes have been altered significantly by Mugabe, who facilitated the constitutional amendment to change the provincial electoral colleges from the 44 member provincial executive committee to the 100 plus PCCs. Since these later committees are made up of several other elective bodies, those structures will need to be in place before a PCC can be said to be properly convened.

 

The costs and logistical difficulties of bringing such a large number of delegates together on short notice, and the legal complexities around the disbandment of the DCCs, may well present grounds for procedural objections, already, as noted, a weak spot of this electoral process.

 

Following nominations, the elaborate process of endorsement by the national people’s conference and “election” by congress may need to take place. All will need to be completed within the timeframe for the parliamentary electoral college established by the state constitution.

 

In view of these difficulties, a second scenario may arise where the central committee exercises its power to amend the Zanu PF constitution and establishes an expedited method of nomination.

 

Thirdly, the politburo may continue to arrogate to itself powers it does not have, as it has done under Mugabe, and direct the nomination procedure. In these latter two instances, none of these bodies is likely to speak with one voice and the process may be susceptible to legal challenge or, worse, extra-juridical conflict. These issues have already been raised as difficulties in the nomination process.

  •  Matyszak is a former University of Zimbabwe law lecturer, constitutional expert and researcher with RAU.

— To be continued next week

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