‘No need to change Constitution’
GOVERNMENT’s proposal to amend the Constitution for the second time in two years should follow a more consultative, cooperative and consensus-based approach, an election watchdog has warned.
Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) said while it acknowledges that the Constitution is not set in stone it discourages unilateralism based on numerical superiority in Parliament.
Last December, the Government of Zimbabwe published the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 2) Bill (Constitutional Bill) in the Extraordinary Government Gazette.
This was a formal commencement of the special procedure to amend the Constitution of Zimbabwe which was adopted following a popular referendum in 2013.
Zesn chairperson Andrew Makoni said following the examination of the proposed changes, his organisation holds the view that the authorities have not presented a cogent and persuasive case for amending the Constitution at this stage.
Makoni revealed that they do not believe that the proposed amendments are warranted and therefore urges the government to reconsider its position.
“This is not because Zesn has a rigid view against constitutional amendments. On the contrary, Zesn acknowledges that there may be sound reasons for changing the Constitution such as correcting errors or gap-filing.
“However, Zesn does not believe that in the current circumstances there is enough reason for changing the Constitution. Instead, we urge the authorities to implement those parts of the Constitution that have not yet been fully implemented before taking steps to amend them.
“We are also concerned that some of the amendments point towards centralisation of power in the hands of the president and therefore lead to an authoritarian style of government,” said Makoni.
Under proposed amendments, the president will have the power to appoint serving judges to the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court without following the normal procedures which require public interviews and recommendations by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).
Currently, all judicial appointments are managed by the JSC in terms of a public process. This was designed to ensure that there would be transparency and checks and balances in the process of judicial appointments.
The same process would also apply to the Prosecutor-General. Now the Prosecutor-General will be appointed by the president without the public process.
“We are concerned with changing procedures for appointing the Prosecutor-General. These changes affect the independence of the judiciary and prosecution authority, which are important political referees in electoral disputes,” Makoni said.
Significantly, he said changes to rules of appointing judges affect the independence of electoral referees and therefore tilt the electoral playing field in favour of the incumbent.
“This will lead to more concerns and charges that elections are not free and fair, which negatively impacts the legitimacy of elections.”
Zesn believes there is no need to remove the running-mate provisions in presidential elections, especially when they have not even been tested.
“The proposal to remove these provisions is based on an irrational fear. The removal will disturb a more democratic succession system.
Makoni said they are also concerned by the proposal to delink the delimitation of electoral boundaries from the population census.
“This will affect democratic representation and may lead to gerrymandering. We urge the government to move forward the Population Census as a better alternative to amending the Constitution.”
“The proposed amendments to the devolution provisions demonstrate needs for a comprehensive re-think of the devolution model rather than doing piece-meal changes that will result in a patched-up and incoherent Constitution.
“There is no need to create two centres of power in the Metropolitan Provinces which will be the result of the proposed amendment.”
The proposed amendment seeks to extend the provision for a maximum quota of 60 proportional representation seats for women in the National Assembly for a further two parliaments.
The current provisions provide for the women’s quota for a maximum of two parliaments, due to expire in 2023.
Makoni said while extending the women’s quota in Parliament appears like a progressive idea, it perpetuates a façade of promoting women’s participation in politics when the government should be implementing the principle of equal representation as required by the Constitution.