IN the sixth part of his article on the contentious Zanu PF succession problem, Derek Matyszak takes a closer look at the process of electing the presidium and the “poorly-drafted” clauses of the party’s constitution that guide this controversial exercise.
Elections for the presidium With the structure of Zanu PF set out, it is now possible to consider electoral processes for the presidium (president, vice presidents, and national chairman) under the Zanu PF constitution.
The relevant clauses of the Zanu PF constitution in this regard are poorly drafted, and, in places, the wording has possibly been deliberately chosen to obscure the true effect of these clauses.
The kernel of the process appears in section 32, which provides that the presidium: shall be elected by congress directly upon nomination by at least six (6) provincial coordinating committees (PCC) of the party, meeting separately in a special session called for that purpose; Provided that if in respect of any position being contested no candidate succeeds in securing the nomination by at least six (6) provincial coordinating committees, the candidates having the highest nomination votes, shall be referred to the provincial coordinating committees for fresh nomination. This process shall be repeated until it yields a candidate who commands the nomination by at least six (6) provincial coordinating committees.
The candidate, who through this process attains the nomination by at least six (6) provincial coordinating committees, shall stand nominated for election directly by congress. For the avoidance of doubt, each provincial coordinating committee shall act as the electoral college for the purpose of arriving at the nominations. The yawning gap in these provisions is that the term of office of those “elected directly by congress” is not explicitly stated.
These provisions must be read with section 22 which establishes the congress.
Subsection 22(6) is as follows: There shall be a presidium consisting of the president and first secretary, two vice-presidents and second secretaries and the national chairman, who shall preside over proceedings of congress as directed by the president and first secretary of the party; provided that following a dissolution of the central committee immediately preceding the election of a new central committee in terms of Section 32 of this constitution, the presidium established under this section shall continue in office until the conclusion of the business of congress.
Considering the importance of the issue, one would expect a clause setting out when, and under what circumstances the central committee is to be dissolved.
It is only clear that the extant central committee is to be dissolved immediately prior to the election of a new central committee. There is nothing, however, to indicate that the election of a new central committee must take place every five years during each ordinary session of congress.
Notwithstanding this lack of clarity relating to tenure, it is apparent that in terms of the procedure set out in section 32, each PCC convenes for the particular purpose of nominating a candidate to the presidium.
If a candidate receives the nomination of six of the PCCs, the nominee is then “directly elected” by the congress. Where no candidate is nominated by six PCCs, the candidates with “the highest nomination votes” are referred back to the PCCs for fresh nomination. The practice is that the PCCs ensure that the special conferences for this purpose take place prior to congress.
This process raises several questions. First, with several nominees, the split may render the interpretation to be accorded to those with the “highest nomination votes” problematic. Does the phrase refer to the votes of provinces or the votes of delegates within the PCCs?
In the former instance, if there are four nominees proposed with the support of four, three, two and one of the 10 provinces, is it the top three, or only the top two, that are referred back to the PCCs? What is the situation if the nominations split 4:2:2:2, or 4:3:3 with three nominees? Which are the highest of these? Second, what is the meaning to be accorded to the notion that the candidate securing the nomination of six provinces is elected directly by the congress?
The term “election” suggests that Congress has a choice. If there is only one nominee for “election” put forward, as the process provides, what is the choice given to congress? Congress essentially endorses or ratifies the choice made by the PCCs rather than elects the candidate. Yet the constitution is silent as to what is to happen if congress refuses to make the endorsement or ratify the candidate. The congress is often referred to by Zanu PF officials “as elective”.
Does the congress thus have the power to suggest an entirely different candidate for election “from the floor” who has not, as the constitution seems to require, been nominated by the PCCs? The Zanu PF constitution contains no special provisions to deal with the contingency of its president’s sudden demise.
The only clause of relevance is section 43(1) which stipulates that one of the vice-presidents will “deputise and exercise any or all of the functions of the president and first secretary in his absence or at his request”. However, it is stretching these provisions to suggest that the deputising of the president’s functions extends to being the party candidate for the position of president of the country in terms of national electoral laws.
Even if this were the case, in the absence of a “request” by Mugabe, how the choice is to be made between the two vice-presidents is not indicated. The top three members of the Zanu PF presidium also currently occupy the same posts provided for in Zimbabwe’s state constitution.
In the event of Mugabe’s sudden demise, the state constitution stipulates that the vice-president who last acted as president, or who has been specifically chosen by Mugabe to do so, will assume power in the interregnum.
It is possible that, if Mugabe indicates a preference under the state constitution, this will be taken to constitute “the request” for purposes of the Zanu PF constitution, but there is no legal requirement that this be so, and the issue may be a point of contention between the two Zanu PF vice-presidents.
There have also been suggestions, from some of those considered to be pretenders to the throne, that the ranking of the members of the politburo “in order of precedence” under the Zanu PF constitution sets the order of precedence for succession to the presidency.
However, what is intended by the “ranking” of the members of the politburo under the Zanu PF constitution, and what privileges are intended to be conferred by holding a higher ranking, is not indicated by the Zanu PF constitution. There is certainly nothing to indicate that the person holding the highest ranking must succeed the president in the event of his sudden demise. — To be continued next week. l Matyszak is a former University of Zimbabwe law lecturer, constitutional expert and researcher with the Research and Advocacy Unit.