Parties will have to agree on election dates –– PM

AS the country inches towards crucial general elections next year, while the constitution-making process edges to finality amid an array of outstanding political reforms, Zimbabwe Independent News Editor Faith Zaba (FZ) and Chief Reporter Owen Gagare (OG) spoke to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai (MT) on Tuesday on elections, constitution, role of the military in politics and polls, political violence, corruption and other issues.

Find below the excerpts:

FZ: Last week the Second All-Stakeholders Conference on the constitution-making process was held in Harare against a backdrop of a reported plot by principals to hijack the exercise. What precisely is the next step?

MT: Copac will take the first draft and the report of the conference to synthesise what came out of the discussions. That report still has to be analysed by Copac and the management committee as directed by the principals. Remember the management committee is the political representative of the principals.

FZ: But there are reports the principals plan to set up a cabinet committee chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara to drive the constitution-making process?

MT: No! Copac has got to produce a report and the draft constitution. From then on, it will be up to the executive to prepare a constitutional bill to present to parliament. Parliament will have the final say before a referendum, not principals.

OG: But the president (Robert Mugabe) has given the impression principals are taking over the process?

MT: The Minister of Constitutional Affairs (Eric Matinenga) is handling a government programme, which is the constitution-making process. But he is not actually the one running it; it is Copac because it is a parliament-driven process. Copac cannot design a referendum because it is not government.

FZ: Mugabe’s speech to parliament (on Tuesday) implies the principals and government are now taking over the process.

MT: So where is your confusion on this issue? Matinenga is the Constitutional Affairs minister.

FZ: How about reports that principals want to set up a cabinet committee to deal with the constitution issue?

MT: No, there is a minister and a ministry responsible for constitutional affairs who will prepare a constitutional bill and take it to parliament.

FZ: We hear Matinenga was summoned by the president, Mutambara and yourself to be informed about the plan to form a cabinet committee.

MT: There is no such thing. We wanted Matinenga to assess preparations for the conference because it is within his sphere. We are the GPA signatories; we will then agree on the mechanisms of resolving conference disputes. VaMugabe nekuti vanofarira power (Mugabe loves power), vanoda kuita (he wants to) usurp power, that is why there is all this talk.

FZ: After the stakeholders’ conference Zanu PF members celebrated, claiming they had won the constitutional battle as it was now going to be resolved by principals and you now are in Mugabe’s pocket. What’s your comment?

MT: Let me emphasis this: anyone who celebrates about a party victory in this constitution-making process does not understand what this process is all about. A constitutional process is not a partisan exercise. There is no MDC or Zanu PF victory because you need a two-thirds majority in parliament. You will have to build national consensus to secure that, a reality which this process should accommodate.

OG: There is a draft which parties signed but Zanu PF has come up with a host of amendments. What do you think?

MT: Well this is what I told the president when we discussed the issue. I said you did not submit proposals on principles as said but you re-wrote the draft.

OG: They (Zanu PF supporters) were celebrating, saying all the amendments are going to be incorporated because the prime minister is now on our side.

MT: No, no, no! Let’s not try to play divide-and-rule tactics. I am a president of a party. I don’t handle things single-handedly. It is a process that is national and collective.

FZ: Some people are saying only those amendments with 100% approval by parties will be adopted, is that the position?

MT: We have a document that has been signed by the three political parties. The draft has now been subjected to a conference. What is now left is to assess the level of disputes and come up with mechanisms to resolve them and go to parliament.

FZ: People say you are opposed to some issues in the draft, for instance the running- mates clause, and Mugabe has said you are together on this issue.

MT: Ndinokumirwa se mombe, ndakambotaura papi kudaro? (Some people try to speak on my behalf, I never said that). We (MDC-T) have endorsed the draft as signed.

FZ: Tell us your views precisely on the issue of devolution of power?

MT: Eighty percent of Zimbabweans said they want devolution during the outreach programme. It is not Tsvangirai who said that. As a party we have always advocated for a devolved state. There is national consensus that the centre cannot distribute resources equitably throughout the country and after all people have their own unique cultural and provincial needs. A centralised state is usually inefficient.

FZ: You have been accused of being part of a plot to side-line Welshman Ncube in principals’ meetings.

MT: Why should I stand up for him?

FZ: Because he is a principal as re-affirmed by the Sadc troika.

MT: No, no, no! Let’s be clear here. Professor Ncube cannot expect me and Mugabe to solve his own party’s problems. He has a dispute with Mutambara. Mutambara is a principal and a deputy prime minister. That is the legal position.

OG: Some say you are side-lining Ncube because you have never forgiven him for the 2005 MDC split.

MT: The split has come and gone. I cannot be so petty; perhaps it is him who has petty residual resentments.

OG: People highlight that Mutambara was defeated at a congress as he withdrew and that there is a High Court ruling in favour of Ncube. Mutambara has appealed to the Supreme Court but there is a standing judgement.

MT: But he (Mutambara) has appealed so what do you want us to do?

OG: Because he has appealed, does judgement not stand until the Supreme Court rules?

MT: The judgement says he (Mutambara) cannot go around declaring he is president of the party. He is not.

OG: So what is the definition of a principal? Isn’t it a leader of a party?

MT: A principal can mean someone who signed the agreement. I am a principal on the basis of being president of MDC. I am mentioned in the constitution, Robert Mugabe is mentioned. Mutambara and Ncube are not mentioned.

FZ: I thought Mutambara signed on behalf of a party and now that he is no longer president of that party, is it not only logical that the new leader takes over as principal?

MT: When we are discussing GPA issues Welshman (Ncube) will be included because he is a leader of a party, but he cannot come into a forum where we are discussing government business.

FZ: The president has said elections will be in March. How realistic is this?

MT: The reason why we requested to postpone the by-elections to March was to be compliant with court directives so we just said why don’t we apply to extend to that date. So by March, we can sit down and say elections will be held on this date.

FZ: But have you confronted Mugabe on this as, even today (Tuesday), he continues to say elections are in March?

MT: The legal position is that we have to agree. We have to declare and give the necessary notice. A notice is gazetted that we are going to have an election on this day, three months before that date. So by March, we can sit down and agree on a date.

FZ: Will you take into consideration outstanding reforms which need implementation before elections?

MT: Yes, reforms are an issue that needs to be dealt with.

FZ: When then do you think we can realistically have elections?

MT: I cannot estimate. All I can say is Zec (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) has said we should give them six weeks to prepare for the referendum. After that, we then sit down and say this is the result and the next step is elections.

FZ: How about the reforms?

MT: The reforms will be implemented within this whole process until we get to elections. The reforms which are important are media reforms and security sector realignment.

FZ: But Zanu PF has rejected security sector reforms?
MT: It can be addressed. In fact, the president was telling me that we need to deal with it for the sake of elections.

OG: Prime minister, do you think the president will be sincere on this because in Manicaland and Masvingo the military is going round fixing Zanu PF structures and campaigning for them.

MT: I think the president and I agree we have a liberation history, with people from the liberation struggle still serving. So they are political in nature but one of the things that we will continue to emphasise is that you have to choose –– are you a professional soldier or a politician?

FZ: Have you also discussed the recent political statements by the generals?

MT: I raise this from time to time. Let us separate the rhetoric and the real constitutional position. Everyone who is serving in these institutions must uphold the constitution or else the will of the people will be undermined.

OG: We take this issue seriously. In 2008 the army made good their plan and took over the Zanu PF campaign, which means they stuck to their word.

MT: You speak as if I have not lived through that experience. We have chosen the path of constitutionalism; not militarism.

FZ: If you assume power are you going to give security chiefs implicated in human rights abuses amnesty as reported?

MT: The issue of amnesty and all that is an issue that was debated during GPA negotiations. Zanu PF refused to countenance the issue of amnesty so it was dropped. As far as I am concerned, the issue is how do you create stability in a situation in which there is a very loud and clear demand by the victims for justice, but there is also real fear by the perpetrators that there will be retribution? So how do you balance?

Those are the matters that should await the next parliament.

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