EXPERTS say the ongoing amendments of the country’s Constitution will make sitting State presidents even more powerful — to the extent that incumbents will effectively be able to choose their successors.
Speaking to the Daily News On Sunday yesterday, the experts added that the planned changes would also empower presidents to handpick judges — in addition to picking their deputies — and thus having a massive influence on who would take over when they left office.
This comes as the Senate has passed Constitutional Amendment Number 2 Bill, which seeks to introduce at least 27 amendments to the Constitution — including dropping the presidential election running mate clause.
The running mate clause was supposed to become operational as from the 2023 general elections, in which President Emmerson Mnangagwa has already indicated he will run.
The Bill also intends to amend the country’s supreme law to give a sitting president the power to appoint the prosecutor-general, extend the terms of retiring judges, increase the women’s quota in Parliament by 10 years, create a youth quota in the National Assembly, and appoint more non-constituency ministers, among other things.
Speaking to the Daily News On Sunday yesterday, both legal and political experts said the move to amend the Constitution was retrogressive.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer, Clever Mumbengegwi, said the amendments were meant to bolster Mnangagwa’s powers to deal with political dynamics in both Zanu PF and the government — especially relating to succession politics.
“The removal of the running mate clause will make the president powerful and he can fire the vice president without following any procedure.
“It’s a political calculation. We have seen the firing of the vice president before, but at the end it weakened the president which led to his downfall,” Mumbengegwi told the Daily News On Sunday.
He was referring to the last few years in power of the late former president Robert Mugabe, which saw Zanu PF effectively splitting in the middle due to its ugly factional, tribal and succession wars.
Then, Mnangagwa’s supporters were involved in a hammer and tongs war with the Generation 40 (G40) faction which had coalesced around the nonagenarian’s erratic wife Grace.
The vicious brawling took a nasty turn when Mnangagwa was allegedly poisoned by his rivals during one of Mugabe’s highly-divisive youth interface rallies in Gwanda in 2017.
Mnangagwa’s fate was eventually sealed on November 6 of the same year when Mugabe fired his long-time lieutenant a few days after the then VP’s allies had booed the irascible Grace during a tense rally at White City Stadium in Bulawayo.
However, tables were dramatically turned on Mugabe when the military rolled in their tanks on November 15 and deposed the long-ruling geriatric from power — which saw a number of alleged G40 kingpins fleeing into self-imposed exile soon afterwards.
Meanwhile, the president of the Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ), Wellington Magaya, says the amendments are inspired by political reasons.
“All legislative amendments are made with political reasons behind them. That’s the reality in the country.
“Our position as the Law Society is that, in as far as entrenching the rule of law and independence of the judiciary, there are no improvements that come with it.
“On the issue of vice presidents, it (the amendment) means that they will no longer be elected by the people.
“So, you are taking that power from the electorate and concentrating it in one person, that is the president.
“We believe that is not desirable. It’s one of the main criticisms that we had under the old constitution. We are … going backwards … and this is unacceptable in a democratic society,” Magaya told the Daily News On Sunday.
“This is a new Constitution. Surely we cannot say seven years down the line we are amending that Constitution.
“The process of appointing judges is something that was agreed to by the public when the new Constitution came into play and there are reasons why we say public interviews must be conducted.
“We do not believe that the proposed amendments add anything. They take away the public scrutiny that comes with the public interviews.
“This undermines public confidence in the justice delivery system and in our view it’s not a good move. But you know that amending laws is a political process and we have given our input to Parliament,” Magaya added.
On his part, constitutional law expert Lovemore Madhuku maintained that the country’s new Constitution was a process “which did not involve the people” — and hence the unsurprising and ongoing amendments.
“This Constitution is being changed because it was not made by the people. The current Constitution gives too much power to the president.
“People must not focus on the content of this Constitution. They must focus on why Zimbabweans allowed Parliament or politicians to make the constitution. People must make their constitution,” Madhuku told the Daily News On Sunday.
However, Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said the amendments were meant to correct “numerous flaws” in the country’s supreme law.
“The amendment has nothing to do with removing term limits for presidents. It simply removes the contested clause on running mates. It’s not about power consolidation.
“It (the running mate clause) is a bad law not practised in many jurisdictions. It creates a parallel centre of power not consistent with the role of a vice president.
“The Constitution says a VP assists the president and anyone must be able to control their assistants.
“Coming to power, the same way would be akin to elevating the assistant to the same level as the principal,” Ziyambi told the Daily News On Sunday yesterday.
Last Wednesday, Ziyambi told the National Assembly that some clauses in the Constitution needed to be corrected.
“The (National Assembly) debates have largely been focused on very few issues and I must say that part of the debate was focused on why we are amending the Constitution and that we must leave it as it is and align the laws.
“I must say that … that argument is baseless in that the constitution was a negotiated document and it has several flaws that we have noticed.
“On the provision pertaining to running mates, there was no consensus and the principals agreed that let us park this for 10 years … that perhaps we would have a new thinking.
“However, we do not have that new thinking. So, let us remove it because it was contentious,” Ziyambi added.
The amendments have received resistance from the opposition and pro-democracy groups, with Ziyambi saying this was uncalled for.
“We are saying let us improve our Constitution. It is a very good Constitution, but where we have deficiencies, we must improve it.
“So, I think that it is a fallacy that we cannot amend the constitution. We need to ensure that we do that,” he said.
Ziyambi further defended the amendment of the Constitution to allow the president to appoint judges, saying they were not against the interviewing process.
Currently, judges are subjected to an interviewing process, with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) selecting those who would have excelled for appointment by the president.
“We are saying at that entry level you must be subjected to an interview. But once you are a judge, what is the function of the JSC if they are not monitoring the performance of judges that are sitting and being able to recommend to the president that these judges are performing well … and then the president will pick from those that the JSC has shortlisted.
“If you are not performing well, there are provisions in the Constitution to say that you can be removed for non-performance.
“You should not wait for the interview process. That is all we are saying,” Ziyambi also said. – Daily News