HARARE – Zimbabwe’s reputation is at stake as rival political parties draw battle lines over a controversial new constitution, with President Mugabe’s Zanu PF insisting on wide-ranging changes to the draft at its Wednesday politburo meeting.
With a boisterous, divisive campaign now under way for a referendum on the draft constitution, Zimbabwe risks failing a critical test of its political maturity.
That, in turn, could mar its status as a country recovering from political chaos and dictatorship.
Constitutional law expert Lovemore Madhuku noted that coalition government principals were bent on hijacking the constitution-making process and inserting watered-down political provisions to suit their agendas.
“The whole exercise is a recipe for anarchy,” he said, denouncing a process which he says is not people-driven. Protests against attempts by Zanu PF to revise the Copac draft so that it retains near-absolute presidential powers has sparked angry denunciations by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and leader of the smaller MDC Welshman Ncube.
They have since been joined by equally vehement but unrelated opposition from women groups.
Zanu PF’s politburo received a report from Copac co-chairperson Paul Mangwana on Wednesday on the just-ended Second All-Stakeholders’ Conference.
Mangwana said the Copac draft will be revised by the management committee and the Principals, to incorporate suggestions from the conference.
“It has been well received, they understood it, I explained the structure of the report that it contains what took place during the (Second All-Stakeholders) conference in the first section,” Mangwana said after the politburo meeting.
“The second section contains clauses which were not changed by the conference. The third section contains clauses for improvements which were suggested by delegates which happened to have been agrees to by the delegates; those will obviously be factored into the draft as amendments.
“The fourth one contains issues which were raised by delegates but which were contested, which were disagreed, those we have juxtaposed them with the justifications identified by the delegates as they were making contributions. And this is the area that shall be the main focus obviously of the management committee and possibly the Principals.”
Civil society groups had said Zanu PF had coached its delegates ahead of the conference, and the issues raised will now be incorporated into the draft by the Principals.
Mangwana confirmed Mugabe’s plan to take over the constitution-making process from Copac and negotiate the amendments they want as Principals.
Thus, Prime Minister Tsvangirai, who is leading the charge for a “yes” vote in the referendum, faces not only a hard-line political foe but a “no” campaign led by Zanu PF and powerful Christian leaders appalled by the constitution’s recognition of gay marriages.
“What happens next will test the political stamina and maturity of Zimbabweans,” said George Hukuimwe of opposition Mavambo, Kusile, Dawn. “They (Principals) have no mandate whatsoever to finalise the country’s constitution. Mugabe should not usurp the powers and responsibilities of both Parliament and the people of Zimbabwe.”
The stakes for Tsvangirai himself, whose party won the 2008 elections on a reformist platform and a pledge to overhaul the “imperial presidency” abused by his coalition partner Mugabe, are also high.
Public discontent over revisions to an initial draft that had ceded many executive powers to Parliament is expected to explode if Zanu PF has its way.
Mugabe’s party insists that the first draft, issued by Copac on July 18, 2012, must be amended after vocal complaints from the politburo.
Madhuku, one of the few civil rights campaigners who led protests against the 19-times amended Lancaster House 1979 Constitution that was negotiated with Britain, said that there will have to be consensus among the three parties; otherwise there will be no referendum at all.
“It is dangerous for a government to overturn the will of the people,” he said. Perhaps more problematic to Mugabe than the political opposition is the fervour of the antagonism from the leadership of the smaller MDC led by Ncube which insists that without devolution of power, they will not accede to any constitution at all.