The speaker is a very powerful position in government with significant leverage to influence events, ensure effective and efficient representation as a third arm of the government and in our case is the main and clear representation of the will of the people of Zimbabwe. The occupation of this major post by the opposition is indeed a paradigm shift and should live up to such high expectations and show significant change. Prior to Monday the 25th of August 2008, Speaker’s influence has been diluted by the fact that they all came from the ruling party; the composition of the Parliament was fully one party until 2000 and a minority of the opposition afterwards. The previous speakers owed their allegiance and loyalty to the President of their party and sought to execute party policies in Parliament. In other words they acted as party chief whips instead of being independent and impartial leadership. Will the new Speaker and parliament live up to expectations? How will the new parliament co-exist with an illegitimate Executive?
So besides affirming opposition control of the legislative arm of the government, is the speaker’s position influential in the Zimbabwean scenario? What are the powers of the speaker of parliament in relation to the governance of our country? The constitution of Zimbabwe does not clearly enunciate any powers of the speaker besides presiding over the parliament which the opposition already controls. However, not many constitutions in the world clearly stipulate any significant powers for the speaker outside of presiding over parliament. However in functioning democracies, the speaker has influence and leverage to determine events and voice out concerns which are anti the will of the people. Being the speaker of parliament, he is essentially the speaker of the Zimbabwean people. He should thus endeavor to ensure that the voice of the majority is always reflected in parliament.
In the USA the speaker is second in line to the Presidency after the Vice President in the event that the President cannot continue. The Constitution of Zimbabwe does not offer any national or governance responsibilities to the speaker in the event of a power vacuum.Â The character of the speaker will determine how he fares in the Zimbabwean political landscape. Whilst some powers and functions are not categorically stated in the constitution, it is within his prerogative to use precedence or to set precedence. It is within the influence of the Speaker to determine when laws reach the flow, when they are debated and controls the flow of debate. The speaker also has considerable influence over parliamentary committees, determining what they should debate, investigate or who they should interview or interrogate. Previous speakers might not have cared much, might not have thought it possible, might have done it but failed or did not show off, but the current speaker represents a very diverse parliament which needs a powerful, tactful and charismatic leader with capacity to direct the goings on of the house of assembly.
How the parliament will relate with an illegitimate executive is fundamental if Zimbabwe is to rise from the current quagmire. It should be the business, urgent business, of the parliament to assess the progress of the power sharing talks, debate and proffer a sustainable and plausible way forward. It should be within the prerogative of the new speaker to ensure that this becomes the first debate of the 7th parliament. Moreover and more importantly, it should be the urgent business of the first session of the 7th parliament to debate and decide the unbanning of humanitarian organizations. The people are suffering and need urgent alleviation. An incapacitated, hungry and hopeless citizenry cannot be expected to fully participate in the governance of their nation. It is therefore the duty of the parliament to ensure their participation; surely they cannot be proud of representing a dying mass.
Collen Chibango is a former student and youth leader in zimbabwe, now studying in the Netherlands. he writes for the zimbabwe watch column. www.zimbabwewatch.org