Constitution: Principals take people for granted

AT the height of the publicity blitz of the Zanu PF government-backed 2000 Constitutional Commission referendum campaign, a local cartoonist produced a caricature featuring a village boy asking his father, “why are we supposed to vote ‘No’ and ‘Yes’ in this election”?

Report by Elias Mambo

The publicity campaign, spearhead by the commission’s then spokesman Jonathan Moyo, engulfed the country like veld fire. Voters in urban and rural areas practically alike were aware of the process which had gripped the nation for the first time since 1923.

Even those who had never heard the word constitution before knew there was such a document and process going on.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC, which had formed an alliance with the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) and other civil society organisations, mounted a fierce campaign to oppose the constitutional commission draft which had deeply divided the electorate and the country.

Even masses of disgruntled voters, including white electorates, who had pulled back from political and electoral processes due to Zanu PF’s political failures, came out of the woods in numbers to express themselves during the 2000 referendum.

Thirteen years down the line, a similar process is underway and the mood is subdued and low-key.

The vibrancy and enthusiasm which characterised the 2000 constitution-making process is virtually non-existent.

After spending nearly four years and US$50 million to produce a flawed draft constitution, Parliamentary Constitution Select Committee (Copac) has hardly stirred national debate beyond the confines of elite gatherings around the country.

With the referendum now set for March 16, indications on the ground show the election-weary public is either unaware of what is happening around them or is disinterested.

Given the explosion of social media at the moment, the publicity campaign for Copac should have been blazing and widespread, as well as easy to coordinate compared to the 2000 process which had political overtones as it pitched President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF against Tsvangirai’s fledgling MDC. The defeat of the “Yes” campaign propelled Tsvangirai and the MDC to pedestal of local politics.

But this time Tsvangirai, now prime minister, is campaigning for a ‘Yes’ vote, saying things which in some cases are directly opposite to his 2000 position. For instance, Tsvangirai is now speaking like what Zanu PF officials used to do in 2000 when they wanted to fast-track the process for their political designs.

“It doesn’t matter how many months you give, people are the ones who put input in this constitution,” Tsvangirai said this week. “If you have not already made a decision, I am sure that even if you are given 10 months you will never arrive at any decision.”

Unity government principals, Mugabe, Tsvangirai and deputy prime minister Arthur Murambara, are now acting as joint forces to railroad the draft while stampeding Zimbabweans to vote for it without sufficiently reading and debating it.

By proclaiming the March 16 date for the referendum, principals are brazenly violating the Sadc-facilitated Global Political agreement (GPA), precursor to the unity government, which stipulates timeframes for the holding of the referendum and Tsvangirai is party to it.
Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director Pedzisai Ruhanya said political parties are taking the people for granted in the current constitution-making process compared to the 2000 one.

“It is very unfortunate that the people have not been given adequate time to study the draft and are now being frog-marched to make uninformed decisions,” Ruhanya said. “This is purely a struggle for power and not a struggle for democracy because the current draft is not different from that of 2000, except that now Zanu PF and the MDCs are in agreement,” he said.

Ruhanya also said civil society, which is supposed to educate people on the draft, has been compromised by its funding sources and the resurgent crackdown on dissent, thereby further stifling the constitution-making process.

Apart from NCA, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) has also slammed the referendum dates, saying they violated the GPA and denied voters time to debate the draft.

“The date raises questions about the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission having sufficient time to organise a credible referendum consistent with the laws of Zimbabwe as well as the Sadc and international principles and guidelines governing the conduct of democratic election,” ZESN said in a statement last Friday.

“The date was set before the draft was even published in the government gazette and the citizens are yet to examine and study the draft as copies have not yet been availed to the public, and plans for civic education by Copac are yet to be implemented.”

Copac is still to finalise the translation of the draft into all major languages and distribute them countrywide.

Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs minister Eric Matinenga said his ministry would hold civic education for two weeks to educate people on the content of the new constitution.

Copac would also hold at least one meetings in all the country’s districts raising awareness on issues contained in the proposed new charter.

But the NCA says this would hardly suffice, and has filed an urgent High Court application seeking an extension of the referendum date as the public has not been given enough time to study the draft.

In its court papers the NCA says ordinary people have not been given enough time to study and understand the draft constitution to make an informed decision at the referendum.