Mugabe imperial presidency intact

ZIMBABWE’S imperial presidency which gives the incumbent almost unfettered powers and control over all the arms of government, something which has been the source of much debate around constitutional reforms since 1987, has largely remained intact in the draft constitution endorsed in last weekend’s referendum, a legal analyst has said.

Report by Paidamoyo Muzulu

Research and Advocacy Unit senior researcher Derek Matyszak says the Copac draft constitution was not substantially different from the Lancaster Constitution in many respects with the exception of limiting presidential terms to a maximum two five-year tenures and his powers to dissolve parliament.

Matyszak says the structure of the executive and presidential powers under the draft constitution resembled those under the current Lancaster House Constitution.

“The changes that are of some significance are the removal of the power to dissolve parliament and the dilution of the president’s influence over the choice of judges and the head of public prosecutions –– though considerable influence remains,” Matyszak says.

Matyszak notes the president still retains significant control over the security sector, especially their operations as well as the appointment of senior officers.

Zanu PF has steadfastly resisted security sector reforms as spelt out by the Global Political Agreement as security forces are credited with helping President Robert Mugabe retain his stranglehold on power.

“The president’s plenary control over the security sector remains in place and little effective change has been made to security sector governance. Given that the need for reform to the manner in which the security sector is governed has been noted as the single most important factor in ensuring democratic elections in Zimbabwe and key to ensuring the rule of law, it is remarkable that this aspect of the constitution remains largely unchanged,” he states.

Matyszak further argues the endorsed draft allows a defeated president to continue in office while the Constitutional Court decides electoral petitions or a runoff poll.

“Accordingly, an incumbent president who ‘wins’ an election subsequently ruled invalid may nonetheless remain in office for 74 days following the vitiated election. The possibility also exists that the second election (and subsequent elections) is likewise ruled invalid. Throughout this period, the incumbent will remain in office,” he observes.

Matyszak further notes the president would still exercise the prerogative of mercy and declaration of a state of emergence just like under the Lancaster House constitution.

The draft further preserves the president’s powers in signing international treaties and wide powers in assenting to or rejecting bills from parliament. The president also has legislative powers just as much as parliament, thus further erasing the principle of separation of powers.

Matyszak says although international treaties concluded by the president do not bind Zimbabwe until approved or exempted from approval by parliament, the draft constitution still empowers the president to sign treaties without prior parliamentary approval.