PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is battling to retain his imperial powers after they were whittled down in the latest draft constitution which has torched controversy, with the Zanu PF politburo hardliners demanding wholesale amendments to clauses that imposed new fetters on his authority.
Zanu PF held a politburo meeting on Wednesday to consolidate proposed amendments it wants made on the draft, mainly to restore the constitutional status quo. Politburo members said the meeting did not finalise the issue as there was also a divisive discussion on the dissolution of district co-ordinating committees (DCCs).
“We met on Wednesday, but we did not finalise the draft constitution issue because we spent a lot of time on DCCs,” a senior politburo member said yesterday. “We are going to meet again next week on Wednesday to finalise the issue. Debate is still going on over some critical questions and problems.”
Another politburo member said: “The process is becoming complicated and there is now a blackout on what is happening. We have been told not to talk to the media about the issue.”
Zanu PF has so far met three times — on Wednesday and Friday/Saturday last week and Wednesday/Thursday this week for more than 24 hours — to consider the draft constitution and compile a series of proposed changes, including deleting whole chapters and clauses. The meetings on Friday last week and Wednesday this week lasted into the early hours of the following morning, showing the issue is being taken seriously and is causing headaches.
Mugabe, in power since Independence in 1980, is fighting to recover part of his overbearing powers which have been distributed to other arms of government, mainly parliament and the judiciary.
Some of the powers have been delegated to cabinet in the draft and this has raised a storm among his diehards who are now fighting a rear-guard battle to help him recover his clout ahead of make-or-break elections.
The current strong executive presidency and institutional arrangements are among the key reasons why Mugabe has been in power for 32 years. Systematic terror, coercion and patronage are some of the factors.
The new draft constitution, which has been widely criticised as flawed and sub-standard, seeks to curtail presidential powers in major ways by distributing some of the executive powers to parliament.
Whereas the current constitution only says the president “exercises executive authority” subject to the constitution, the draft states “executive authority derives from the people of Zimbabwe and must be exercised in accordance with the constitution”. The draft also says executive authority vests in the president and cabinet and lists duties of the president including “ensuring the protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms and the rule of law”.
The draft also curtails Mugabe’s powers of appointment, putting new checks and balances.
It also says “all institutions and agencies of government at every level are accountable to parliament”. It introduces a constitutional court, which becomes the highest court in the judiciary hierarchy. The draft also reforms the Attorney-General’s Office, state security and intelligence services and constitutional commissions, including the electoral one, removing the role of certain partisan officials.
This has infuriated Mugabe’s loyalists who think the draft constitution is a conspiracy by the two MDC parties and Zanu PF officials who want the veteran ruler out to systematically weaken the executive and state institutions ahead of elections to force change.
Zanu PF politburo member Jonathan Moyo has said the draft is designed to ensure “systematic weakening of state institutions in general and in particular the total and unmitigated onslaught on the executive arm of government”.
Moyo repeated this charge this week on Tuesday. Addressing the Institute for Democracy in Pretoria, South Africa, he said: “It (draft) strips the executive of all powers and leaves it as a clerical branch of government.”
Showing growing resistance to the draft by the cabal around Mugabe, Moyo added: “This draft is an attack, quite a serious attack, on our sovereignty, quite a serious attack on our democracy.”
However, some constitutional lawyers and political analysts argue that even though the draft curtails some of the presidential powers, the core of the executive presidency remains intact, especially because Mugabe would still appoint security service chiefs, his pillars of support, in the same old way.
Zanu PF also wants to cling to the Joint Operations Command (JOC) arrangement which has been used to win elections since 2000. JOC, a relic of colonial repression, brings together army, police and intelligence chiefs.
The politburo has since last week met for more than 24 hours to debate the draft constitution. It met on Wednesday for the third time inside a week — a record by its own history — but failed to finalise discussions and would now meet again next week on Wednesday to consolidate its new demands for amendments mainly calculated to restore Mugabe’s powers.
Zanu PF has made many proposals to the draft constitution, mainly restoring the presidential powers. It has rejected term limits of the security chiefs, permanent secretaries and reform of the Attorney-General’s Office, and is unhappy with proposed appointment processes to key posts in government — a role which has been taken away from the president.
Fearing the new draft would be used in the next elections to sweep them out of power, Mugabe and his party, through the politburo, are demanding far-reaching changes to the draft constitution which include the preamble, national objectives and foundations; the history, legacy and significance of the liberation struggle; public administration, public finances; tiers of government, devolution and appointment of provincial governors; the establishment of the constitutional court; the deployment of defence forces outside the country; proposed restructuring of the Attorney-General’s Office; inclusion of traditional chiefs on the Judicial Services Commission and removal of their term limits; maintenance of the Office of Public Protector which had been removed following the adoption of the Human Rights Commission; media issues; war veterans; Zimbabwe’s obligations under international law amid fears gay rights might come through the back door; citizenship, death penalty; vice-presidents and running mates, anti-corruption commission, and the abolishing of the proposed National Peace and Reconciliation Commission, among other issues.