Voting “Yes” endorsing Mugabe powers

I DON’T like this new Copac draft constitution and am going to vote a big “No” because it leaves the executive or presidential powers largely unchanged. This proposed constitution has been made to preserve President Robert Mugabe’s rule.

Report by Zhanda Shumba

As he has done since 1980, Mugabe would still be able to do virtually everything he has been doing as he retains the powers to do so.

Under the draft, the president has the powers conferred by this new constitution and by any Act of Parliament or other law including those necessary to exercise the functions of head of state.

Subject to the new constitution, the president is responsible for:

  • assenting to and signing bills;
  • referring a bill to the constitutional court for an opinion or advice on its constitutionality;
  • summoning the National Assembly, the senate or parliament to an extraordinary sitting to conduct special business;
  • making appointments which the constitution or legislation requires the president to make;
  • calling elections in terms of this constitution;
  • calling referendums on any matter in accordance with the law;
  • deploying the defence forces;
  • conferring honours and awards;
  • appointing ambassadors, plenipotentiaries, and diplomatic and consular representatives; and
  • receiving and recognising foreign diplomatic and consular representatives.
  • Subject to this constitution, the cabinet is responsible for:
  • directing the operations of government;
  • conducting government business in parliament;
  • preparing, initiating and implementing national legislation;
  • developing and implementing national policy; and
  • advising the president.

Subject to this constitution, the president may conclude or execute conventions, treaties and agreements with foreign states and governments and international organisations.

  • A decision by the president must be in writing if it is taken in terms of legislation.
  • In the exercise of his or her executive functions, the president must act on the advice of the cabinet, except when he or she is acting in terms of subsection (2) above.

Mugabe has appointed all the ministers by himself and chaired the cabinet since 1980. He has had a lot of power since independence to control and manipulate both Zanu PF and Zimbabwe. Now Articles 104 and 114 of the new draft constitution are a reinforcement of his powers. Article 104 gives power to the president to appoint all the cabinet ministers all by himself. Article 114 gives him power to appoint the Attorney General alone.

Article 310 is not clear on the role of parliament’s approval since the president will have already appointed an Auditor General. Article 310 is ambiguous. In Article 238 we see the executive also being given power to appoint the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. The president through article 180 appoints Chief Justice, the Deputy Chief Justice, and the Judge President of the High Court.

This is real absolute power which can easily be abused and make a president a dictator. I would have preferred to see executive power shared and limited or controlled through cabinet, parliament or senate. I prefer the executive to only nominate people to these offices while the senate, for instance, is given power to either approve or disapprove.

I also don’t prefer a president who can decide on his own to make war and only advise parliament. Why should people accept that only one man can decide to send their sons and daughters to die in war? We should not trust one man to do this.

We are recreating the executive monster we have had for so many years and it will be far more difficult to rein it in or to dislodge it. He will trample on our rights and speak for us, while denying us our basic rights.

The constitution is being hurried through and many people have not read it, let alone understand its content, yet are being coerced by state-driven propaganda via ZBC and Zimpapers titles like the Herald and Sunday Mail to vote “Yes”. There has been no serious public education and publicity campaigns on this but people are expected to vote on it tomorrow even without reading or debating it.

The big question is why is the coalition government, through the three main parties involved in it, hurrying the nation to endorse the document? Whose interest are the principals and their parties serving? It looks like all they are thinking of now is the general elections dates, not creating an environment for free and fair elections which is what a new constitution, among other reforms, is all about.

People needed time to read and debate the document but principals in their wisdom or lack of it thereof connived to hurry the nation to a referendum after only fleeting meetings by Copac officials and those form the Ministry of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs. As a result what is happening is criminal. It only serves Mugabe or Zanu PF’s agenda. It is sad the MDC parties are part and parcel of this national deception on a grand scale.

Making a constitution in a repressive environment inevitably produces a flawed document, which does not reflect the views and will of the people. The inclusive government should learn from Zanu PF’s mistakes. In 2000 Zanu PF tried to force a constitution – which left executive powers intact – down the people’s throats, but still the people rejected it in the referendum.

Even if the people are forced to vote “Yes” tomorrow that will not remove the fact that the new draft constitution is a negotiated document which does not reflect views of the people.

If Zimbabweans are serious about a new constitution and democracy, as well as creating an genuine environment for free and fair elections, they should reject this document the same way they refused to endorse the Constitution Commission draft in 2000.

Of course, the only different thing this time around is that the MDC parties are being used as lever to mobilise the electorate to vote “Yes” and this means all main parties are conspiring to betray the people. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has shockingly not objected to Mugabe’s bid to maintain his overbearing executive powers because it appears he thinks he is going to win the elections in July.

If Tsvangirai, whom people have supported through thick and thin, is indeed now thinking like that , he should as well consult Raila Odinga (Kenya’s outgoing premier who recently lost elections to president-election Uhuru Kenyatta).

We need a new constitution which looks far beyond the horizon, into the future, not one designed to serve short-term political agendas and forthcoming elections, while keeping Mugabe’s powers practically intact.

  • Shumba is a freelance contributor and writes from Nyazura. zekishumba@gmail.com.

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