How can we get a peoples constitution?

constitutional_conventionIt is painful that after years of fighting for a new constitution and a new political dispensation in the country, the NCA has suddenly decided to exclude itself from this controversial but historic constitution-making process, writes MORGEN KULARE.

The much-awaited public consultation phase of the constitution-making process which kicks off on 12 January is already flawed because of its highly politicized leadership. But the decision of some sections of civil society not to participate in the process has far-reaching repercussions if the two dominant political parties MDC, and Zanu (PF) manage to reach a compromise.

The constitution making process is led by a 25-member parliamentary select committee set up last April and consists of representation from all three political parties signatory to the global political agreement (GPA). The committee of parliament on a new constitution (COPAC) is co-chaired by Douglas Mwonzora of MDC-T and Paul Manguma of Zanu (PF). It is this overtly political leadership which has raised eyebrows from some sections of society that the process has been highjacked by politicians to fulfill their political agendas at the expense of a people-driven process.

The NCA, ZINASU and ZCTU had advocated that the process be chaired by an individual, preferably a retired judge. This would have been the ideal situation in any normal and stable democracy, but the NCA and its affiliates should take into consideration the political dynamics surrounding the formation of Zimbabwes current government.

Possible alternative

It would have been difficult if not impossible for all the interested parties to come up with a consensus candidate to lead this crucial and historic process in deeply divided nation. The possible alternative is that the NCA should have advocated a third co-chairperson nominated and agreed to by civil society to join Mangwana and Mwonzora in co-chairing the process.

The chairmanship of the 17 thematic committees is again dominated by politicians. At least eight or nine chairpersons should have been nominated by civil society to obtain a balanced view of the peoples aspirations in the new constitution.

Although the total composition of the whole constitution making team is indeed reflective of 70% civil society and 30% politicians, the whole process is being driven by politicians and civil society is playing a peripheral role. The fears that the views of civil society will be submerged by politicians at this stage are more real than imagined.

Critical decisions

What is most disturbing is the long hand of the three principles in making two critical decisions – namely to appoint a management committee composed of cabinet ministers from the three political parties and the reduction of thematic committee members from the initial 860 to 560 members without consulting civil society. It is such drastic decisions which add value to claims by the NCA and its members that the process is flawed.

It is painful that after years of fighting for a new constitution and a new political dispensation in the country, the NCA has suddenly decided to exclude itself from this controversial but historic constitution making process. The NCA which preceded the formation of the MDC was probably the first cgroup in the country to demand a legitimate people-driven constitution for Zimbabwe and it is regrettable that they are not part of this process.

They should have at least compromised rather than boycotted. They should have fought their battle from within the process because their boycott has two possible negative repercussions.

Before looking at the repercussions, one most note that the NCA of today is not as strong as it was in 1999 because its membership is divided, with individual groups like GAPWU, Commercial Workers of Zimbabwe and Associated Mine Workers of Zimbabwe taking part in the process.

Mammoth task

Other individual groups such as Crisis Coalition of Zimbabwe (CCZ) Students Solidarity Trust (SST), Restoration of Human Rights Zimbabwe (ROHZ), Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) and others are urging communities to participate in the process. Furthermore, its political ally the MDC is co-chairing the process hence the NCA will face a mammoth task in mobilizing its members for a no vote.

The first problem is that unlike the 1999 process, this process is agreed to by both the MDC and Zanu (PF) and the first but unlikely scenario is that both parties might accept the draft document and campaign for a yes vote. Taking into consideration the voting pattern of March 2008, whatever is agreed to by the two parties will most likely pass the referendum against the NCAs wish because in the end what counts at the referendum are numbers not quality of ideology. This will be a disastrous consequence for the NCA.

Secondly and most probably the MDC and Zanu (PF) might not agree on the contents of the final draft, but after much discussion will compromise just as they did on the GPA. This they will do in order just to get rid of the current constitution and go into a fresh election under a new constitution. This scenario will again see both parties campaigning for a yes vote against the NCA.

Compromise document

The NCA and others boycotting the process must be reminded that the three signatories to the GPA are under an obligation to oversee the writing of a new constitution for Zimbabwe as part of that agreement. This means the current process, whether flawed or not, will in the end produce a document leading to fresh general elections in Zimbabwe.

Such a compromise document will pass the referendum despite NCA objections.

Basically the NCA is proposing that the process be led by civilians not politicians.

The best option to achieve legitimacy is that government and relevant stakeholders must jointly decide on a credible team of people with integrity who are representative of the various stakeholders to lead the process. The team should be independent and free from executive control and interference. Unfortunately this was the point missed by some in civil society.

No one has the monopoly to write a constitution for the country; be it ruling party, opposition parties, civic society, students, farmers or any individual group. A constitution should be the hallmark of a consensus of all these groups including individuals who wish to express their views. – Morgen Kulare is the National Research and Advocacy Officer for Youth of Zimbabwe for Transparency and Progress (YZTP). [email protected]

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