‘ED is seeking to consolidate power through amendment’. . .Zimbabwe still needs new, truly people-driven Constitution
The Daily News on Sunday senior reporter Blessings Mashaya last week had a chat with constitutional law expert and member of the Political Actors Dialogue (Polad) Lovemore Madhuku looking at the Bill and implications of the proposed amendments. Below are the excerpts.
Q: Can you break down to us what is in the Constitution Amendment (No. 2) Bill for people to have a better understanding?
A: The Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 2) Bill seeks to amend the Constitution in several ways. I can only give the most far reaching. The first is the removal of the presidential running mate clause.
The running mate clause was meant to start in 2023. The amendment will take it away, so that it will never apply. We will continue with the current system where the President hires and fires Vice Presidents at will.
Under a running mate system, every presidential candidate nominates a vice president who is also elected with him/her.
Such a vice president cannot be fired and is an automatic successor of the president in the event of death or resignation.
Second, the Bill also seeks to allow the president to increase the number of ministers he/she may appoint from outside Parliament. The number is being increased from five to seven. Thirdly, the quota of 60 women MPs is being extended by a further 10 years.
It was due to end in 2023. The fourth aspect relates to the Judiciary. There, the retirement age in respect of judges of the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court is being raised from 70 to 75. In addition, the president will be able to promote sitting judges without public interviews.
Q: In your view, why is the government fast tracking this Bill?
A: It is nothing but the consolidation of power. All the major proposals focus on giving more power to the president.
The rush stems from two agendas: to deal with internal Zanu PF power dynamics by scrapping the running mate clause and to control the Judiciary for purely partisan interests.
The rush has nothing to do with deepening democracy in the country.
Q: Who is this going to benefit, the people or the State?
A: Neither the State nor the people will benefit. The government of the day is not the State. Only the temporary interests of the politicians pushing these amendments will be satisfied.
After a few years, even the politicians pursuing these amendments today will no longer be protected by their own amendments. It is not acceptable to write a constitution in the image of the ruling party of the day.
Q: What are the main contentious sections in the Bill?
A: Your question misses the point. It is not about the content of each of the provisions. It is first and foremost about the political principle that a constitution cannot just be amended merely because the ruling party says so.
Secondly, all the provisions that give more power to the president are undesirable. They continue with the main weakness of the 2013 Constitution: the concentration of power in one person — the president. We still need a new and truly people-driven constitution.
Q: Is there any means to block this Bill?
A: Yes, there are several ways to block the amendments. First, people must use the public hearings and other platforms to send a consistent message of opposition to the Bill.
Secondly, MPs can still vote against the Bill. They must go beyond their political party parochial interests and consider the greater good.
Thirdly, just as with Amendment Bill No.1, Amendment No.2 may also be declared invalid by the Constitutional Court.
Parliament is likely to ignore the inputs from the people and that is a sufficient ground to approach the Constitutional Court.
Q: You have raised concerns as Polad on the issue of this Bill, have you engaged the president and what was his response and your way forward as Polad on this issue?
A: The Polad position is public knowledge. We recommended that the Bill be withdrawn. Clearly that position has not found favour with the president and his government.
Polad is not part of government: it is a platform to engage with the government.
The government may accept or reject our proposals. This is what has happened in this case.
Polad is clear that political engagement is complex and protracted: you lose some and gain some. Success does not come on the first day.
So, Polad’s Governance and Legislative Agenda sub-committee will continue to monitor the process and hope that Parliament will take into account what we have already said.
While Polad may not have succeeded in blocking this Bill, it has scored major successes in other areas such as dialogue on the economy, national healing and international re-engagement.
The government itself is still learning how to relate with Polad. In this case, the faction opposed to Polad got its way.
However, we are pursuing electoral reforms ahead of 2023. I believe some of our proposals will become law before 2023.
Q: How is the Bill going to influence political dynamics in Zanu PF?
A: I am not qualified to comment on what you are calling the internal dynamics of Zanu PF.
The only thing I know about Zanu PF is that it is a very difficult dialogue partner.
Despite its protestations to the contrary, it has so many centres of power that you can never be sure who, at any one point, is in control.
As soon as you agree with one group to institute reforms, you are immediately overtaken by events when another group moves in the opposite direction.
We will not give up: with time we will outwit them and get much needed reforms before 2023.