PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa on May 21, 2020 announced that the Covid-19 lockdown is now indefinite, in many ways maintaining a ban on any public gathering. However, two weeks later, the government of Zimbabwe has called for Public Hearings on the controversial Constitutional Amendment Bill No.2 further heightening tensions in the Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe adopted a compromise new Constitution in May 2013, at the twilight of the inclusive government that was formed in 2009 after the inconclusive 2008 presidential election where the ruling party had lost to the opposition MDC formations.
The rushed public consultations on the proposed 28 amendments to the Constitution fuels suspicion that Mnangagwa wants to consolidate power to himself under the cover of the Covid-19 pandemic. Under lockdown regulations inter-city travel is banned and so are gatherings of more than 50 people.
Could this be done so that civil society and opposition have no room to influence discussion and only ZANU PF ministers can traverse the length and breadth of the country as government officials?
The proposed changes dash the hope that was created in 2013 – a hope that Zimbabweans had found themselves and were ready to develop some binding national values, open democratic space and a platform for sustainable development. This now seems a mirage, as ZANU PF desecrates the same constitution.
Mnangagwa has been insecure since the day he came into power via a coup in November 2017. He has been looking at each and every opportunity to consolidate his power, both in ZANU PF and the State. For now, the Constitution is the easiest option as it simply needs 180 National Assembly votes and 54 Senate votes, respectively. Under the current constitution, Constitutional amendments are passed by a two-thirds majority of parliament.
It is conceivable that Mnangagwa having realised that he only needs 234 MPs to vote for his amendments in a parliament of 350 members is within his reach, considering that ZANU PF has a super two-thirds majority in the house.
So what are the big issues that Mnangagwa wants to change in his omnibus Constitutional Amendment Bill No.2? The big issues are the changes to electing a Vice-President, appointment of Supreme Court and Constitutional Court judges, the Prosecutor General and the changes to the composition Provincial and Metropolitan Councils.
The amendments also include the expansion of legislators and extension of the gender quota by another 10 years. The President will also have the power to appoint another extra two non-constituency MPs as ministers from the current five to seven.
It is a fact that succession in ZANU PF has been a major issue since the days of the late former President Robert Mugabe. The amendment will do away with the running-mates clause that demanded that the President and Vice-President are elected on the same ticket and the first VP was to automatically succeed the President in case of death, resignation, incapacitation or impeachment.
Mnangagwa for various reasons does not want to choose a successor. He wants a situation where the VPs serve at his pleasure. ZANU PF argues that the running-mate clause creates two-centres of power and instability in the fractious ruling party. It is conceivable that Mnangagwa is uncomfortable with an elected General Constantino Chiwenga as his VP considering how the military facilitated his rise to power. In other words, Mnangagwa wants to use the constitution to sort out ZANU PF succession politics.
Zimbabwe’s judiciary has always been considered to be aligned to the ruling regime since independence. The 2013 constitution has brought some transparency into appointment of judges to the bench through holding of public inquiries/interviews of nominated persons. Under the proposed amendments, the President wants to have power to promote judges without having them go through public interviews. This is problematic in view of the country’s history since Rhodesian days when a regime could bench-pack, therefore safeguarding itself against adverse judgments in future particularly in political cases. This can be seen as an extension of Constitutional Amendment No.1 that allowed the President to appoint the Chief Justice, Deputy Chief Justice and Judge President in consultation with the Judicial Services Commission.
The country has also suffered the curse of having citizens complaining of partisan and political prosecutions. This charge will continue in the event of the amendment that seeks to give the President powers to appoint the Prosecutor-General after consultation with the Judicial Services Commission (JSC). The transparency and independence of the Prosecutor General’s office would be questionable under the new scenario.
In another amendment, government seeks to extend the 10-year gender clause by another decade. This may have the support of women, but a devious move to discard the constitutional requirement that women should hold 50% of all elected positions. The ZANU PF regime in sponsoring the expansion of the gender quota is in principle saying gender equality and parity in elected public office is not an issue worth their time, but rather they would have the women as token MPs who survive at the benevolence of the party that selects the women list for gender quota.
In a move to mollify youths, ZANU PF has proposed that 10 new seats be reserved for youths and they would be allocated on a proportional representation basis, one per province. It boggles the mind why youths (under 35) who constitute nearly 60% of the electorate should be reduced to having a mere 10 seats in parliament.
After a decade of failing to operationalize devolution through the setting up of Provincial Councils, ZANU PF has made moves to amend the composition of the councils. More importantly, the Chairpersons of the Metropolitan Councils will no longer be Mayors of the two biggest cities. This could be a move aimed at making sure that under devolution, the opposition will not be able to control the budgets of the metropolitan council. The opposition over the past two decades has controlled Harare and Bulawayo.
Zimbabweans are very aware of how Mnangagwa twice after his inauguration has failed to appoint Cabinet ministers in line with the constitution. On both occasions he appointed more than five non-constituency MPs as Cabinet ministers. It may be this failure to deal with ZANU PF factionalism and interests from the military that Mnangagwa wants to increase the number of non-constituency MPs in the cabinet as a way to deal with internal ZANU PF issues.
On the whole one cannot help, but conclude that we are seeing a total consolidation of power in the hands of the President – in this case Mnangagwa – as he wants to entrench his rule. It is frightening that one many can go to all that length to alter a constitution that is barely a decade old to give himself time to deal with internal ZANU PF problems.
What makes the situation worrying is the fact that the suggested amendments are a regression from the incremental gains scored in the 2013 constitution. ZANU PF has found some breathing space and now ready to use its super two-thirds majority in parliament to push these amendments. In other words, the amendments are not being done in good faith as the party has failed to align outstanding legislation to the constitution despite its majority in the house.
Zimbabweans have to resist this closing down of the democratic state and creation of an imperial presidency by themselves and not expect any help from the region. Events in the last two years have shown that regional and continental bodies like SADC and the African Union (AU) offers false and elitist solidarity at the expense of people to people support. Zimbabweans are on their own.
For the umpteenth time political expediency is triumphing over democratic values at the cost of consolidation of democratic values. The dream for democratic transition in Zimbabwe is once again deferred or in some instances a nightmare, especially for those who have fought for democracy all their lives.