Zanu PF escalates push to amend new Constitution

HARARE – President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF will again use its two-thirds parliamentary majority to approve more constitutional amendments giving back wide-sweeping powers to the president, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa has said.

The changes come at the expense of MPs’ rights to oversee the government and will undo transitional clauses in a new Constitution adopted in 2013 that replaced a 33-year-old document forged in the dying days of British colonial rule.

Approved overwhelmingly in a referendum in March 2013, the new Constitution clips the powers of the president and imposes a two-term limit.

The package of mooted amendments to the country’s Constitution is meant to advance Mugabe’s desire for strong leadership.

This comes after the National Assembly on Tuesday last week passed the controversial Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 1) Bill by a vote of 182 for, and 41 against, which amends section 180 of the Constitution and gives sole and unfettered discretion to Mugabe to appoint the Chief Justice, Deputy Chief Justice and Judge President of the High Court whenever there are vacancies for such posts.

Mnangagwa said the forthcoming amendments will target “transitional” clauses in Schedule Six of the Constitution which he said will be the key priority for the current government.

The transitional clauses relate to how to manage acting presidents in relation to the possibility that the president may retire or become incapacitated to continue in office.

Even constitutional commissions such as the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) and the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission could be changed so that they do not affect ruling party succession dynamics, authoritative Zanu PF sources said.

Zanu PF was also going to amend the chapter on devolution of power in the new Constitution which would reconfigure power dynamics as they relate to provinces beginning to get a semblance of autonomy from central government.

“There are areas where we were unable to agree and we compromised. This is why in Schedule Six, you find there are provisions which have a time limit, five or 10 years limit, because we were not able to agree on a definite period on those areas.

“We are still going to make sure we correct everything. Let me assure the Senate that this is not the only thing we intend to amend in the Constitution.

“There are many other areas which we are looking at, which we feel should be amended,” Mnangagwa told the Senate.

Legal experts have said it was imperative for the opposition to wrest legislative control from Mugabe’s Zanu PF to limit its ability to pass major legislation.

Morgan Tsvangirai’s former advisor and law professor Alex Magaisa said the amendment was an affront on one of the guiding pillars of the constitution-making exercise to whittle down Executive powers.

“Zanu PF is able to mutilate the Constitution like this because it has the two thirds majority required for such amendments,” he said.

“This is why a key battleground in next year’s elections is over the two thirds parliamentary majority.”

Mnangagwa said: “It is not a question of being a Zanu PF government in power, but it is a question of a democratic process.

“A democratic process requires that the party that has the majority after a general election should form a government and it has a programme.

“If the Constitution forbids the implementation of a programme, they have a choice to amend it so that the programme can go forward. If next time they are not in power and some other political party comes in and thinks that they must amend, the Constitution allows them to amend — but for now we are amending, because we feel it must be amended.”

Speaking on the move by Zanu PF chief whip Lovemore Matuke to impose a three-line whip — the strongest sanction at his disposal — on ruling party MPs to back the proposed bill, which seeks to restore sweeping powers to the president to singularly appoint the Chief Justice, Deputy Chief Justice and the Judge President of the High Court, Mnangagwa said it is democratic to whip MPs to support a certain bill.

“This is democracy. The Zanu PF chief whips never whipped MDC members; they only whipped Zanu PF members,” he said.

“I am sure that there are whips also on the MDC side who whip MDC members. So, there is nothing bad with whipping your members to come to Parliament, as happened.”

Speaking on National Assembly Speaker Jacob Mudenda’s move to block an opposition motion seeking to have voting on the proposed Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 1) Bill  taken by secret ballot, Mnangagwa said: “The question of secret ballot, no. If you are a member of a political party, it means that you adhere to the policies and exercise the policies of that party.

“You should then stand upright and say I am a member of this political party which brought me to Parliament and not go to secrecy.

“If you do not like your party, you can always resign and an election can be conducted so that somebody who can represent the party can be elected.

“Senators as well as members of the National Assembly are representatives of the people.

“You represent people, but if you reach a stage where you feel you do not anymore represent the people who brought you here, the door is open.” – Daily News