HARARE – A raging row pitting Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) boss Justice Priscilla Chigumba and President Emmerson Mnangagwa over delimitation enters a critical week on Monday.
ZimLive has heard fresh details of Chigumba’s February 3 meeting when she presented Mnangagwa with what she called her final report on the delimitation of ward and constituency boundaries ahead of elections in August.
There has been confusion since, with official government spokesmen insisting that Chigumba had only presented a second draft, and not the final delimitation report.
Now, we can reveal the mistrust and tense exchanges between Mnangagwa and Chigumba which has left the country on the cusp of a constitutional crisis.
Mnangagwa and his allies have been suspicious of Chigumba after a preliminary delimitation report, in their view, undermined Zanu PF’s chances of a sweeping majority in parliament and left nearly a dozen of the Zanu PF leader’s loyalist MPs in the cold following the dissolution of their constituencies.
A source briefed on Mnangagwa and Chigumba’s February 3 meeting revealed: “When Chigumba went to present her final delimitation report and her comments on earlier submissions by parliament and the president, Mnangagwa was first taken aback by the presence of journalists who had been invited to witness the handover of the final delimitation report.
“Mnangagwa told Chigumba that ‘this report is not final’. He further informed her that he would study what she had presented and make further comments which would be ready by February 13.
“The president’s expectation, therefore, is that Chigumba will return on Monday and pick up his further comments before she wraps up her delimitation report. On the other side, however, Chigumba stated after leaving the same meeting that she presented her final report which she said Mnangagwa should publish in the government gazette within 14 days, which sets a deadline of February 17.”
The source said if Chigumba does meet Mnangagwa on Monday, that would be a suggestion that she is still open to amending her delimitation report – a development likely to trigger protests from the Zanu PF leader’s rivals.
“The other side of viewing it is that if she doesn’t (got to the meeting), then you can safely conclude that she stands by her February 3 report and the deadline of February 17 for its gazetting has not changed. That would be clear and open defiance of Mnangagwa, quite unprecedented between the head of a constitutional body and the state president,” the source said.
Lawyers have been united in their analysis that Chigumba has submitted her final report, based on constitutional provisions she cited as she handed Mnangagwa the final report. Some warn of an impending constitutional crisis, with ZEC itself split after seven of the nine commissioners rejected the reports submitted by Chigumba to Mnangagwa on behalf of the elections body.
Leading constitutional law expert Professor Lovemore Madhuku told ZimLive: ““There is a problem relating to what it is that ZEC can give to the president. It must give to the president a final report. The constitution does not have provisions for anything else after ZEC has received comments to its preliminary report.
“Its next interaction with the president is final, that is what the constitution contemplates. As we stand now, there are now two versions: the ZEC chairperson says she gave the president a final report which would mean that the president must now go to the next stage within 14 days and gazette that.
“But the president’s office says that they have not yet received the final report. They have received what they are calling a revised preliminary delimitation report. I must make it clear that there is no provision for what is called a revised preliminary report.
“If the president doesn’t do what is required of him in terms of section 161 subsection (11) [gazette the final delimitation report] then of course there would be a breach of the constitution by the president. On the other hand, if ZEC believes it has submitted a final report, ZEC will have no basis of submitting anything else.
“So, there, I can easily say that it can create a constitutional crisis if that difference in characterisation continues.”
Mnangagwa loyalists led by the justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi and the powerful justice secretary Virginia Mabhiza allegedly believe if Chigumba gets Mnangagwa’s comments on February 13, then ZEC can make amendments and submit final delimitation report on February 17 to avoid legal disputes.
ZimLive understands that in the final report presented on February 3, ZEC did not make any “significant changes” from its preliminary report, incensing Mnangagwa and his camp.
Mnangagwa loyalists believe Chigumba and her deputy Rodney Simukai Kiwa are acting in connivance with his ambitious deputy Constantino Chiwenga and powerful elements in the military and intelligence services who want to disrupt his second and final term, should he win in August.
Their mood would not have been lifted last Friday when the Speaker of Parliament Jacob Mudenda also appeared to align himself with Chigumba in dismissing claims by Mnangagwa’s office that Chigumba had not submitted a final report.
“Section 161 (of the constitution) is very clear in terms of the processes,” Mudenda said. “The report is tabled here in the House in Parliament, we scrutinise it and make our observations. We then submit to the head of state and government in terms of section 161. Within the specified 14 days, the head of state must submit to ZEC, which was done.
“After that, ZEC will start on whatever contributions or analysis that were done by the relevant stakeholders. They will look at them, make adjustment where it is possible and send those adjustments in a report to His Excellency. Within 14 days, the president must gazette.
“What ZEC has said and done in that report is final. So why do you want to listen to people who talk from the side shows?”
Long assailed by the opposition as a Zanu PF partisan, Chigumba has not suddenly found an independent streak, say commentators, but is caught up in Zanu PF factional politics.
The accusations, according to Mnangagwa loyalists, are that Chiwenga through delimitation and Zanu PF candidate selection for primaries wants to build a power base of MPs loyal to him. They claim the delimitation was done in such a way that in a number of constituencies, voters from opposition hotbeds in urban areas were moved to neighbouring rural constituencies held by Zanu PF MPs in sufficient numbers to wipe out Zanu PF’s advantage.
They claim this is calculated to gift the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change more seats and deny Mnangagwa a two thirds majority which he craves and hopes to use to amend the constitution to scrap term limits if he wins.
The president’s supporters warn of a more dire fate for him if his two thirds bid fails, but he still wins the presidential election. Chiwenga loyalists in Zanu PF, they claim, will gang up with the opposition and remove him as president through a process similar to impeachment.
Mnangagwa is the first president to have his presidency curtailed by a two-term limit under a constitution adopted in 2013. Should he win in August, he would start on his second and final term, which political analysts say would leave him a lame duck as ambitious officials begin to coalesce around the next likely leader, Chiwenga. – ZimLive