On the sidelines of the Outreach programme another debate is raging. People are arguing over the best way to re-write our constitution. There are very good arguments on both sides of the debate but we risk taking our eyes off the ball and focusing on the sideshow. I have great respect for Dr Lovemore Madhuku and the civil society constitutional movement represented by the NCA. The NCA has done a great job in bringing ordinary people into the constitutional debate. I have my reservations about the current approach, but it represents a real chance for constitutional reform in our troubled nation. The naked truth is that we need a new constitution not as a panacea to our political problems but as one of the building blocks towards a real democracy. On its own a constitution can never ensure a functional democracy but it can be the beginning.
What I am worried about is that those who really want constitutional reform are at each others throats leaving Zanu (PF) to laugh all the way to a rigged referendum. Zanu (PF) is happy with the current Constitutional dispensation and will give anything to maintain the status quo. The re-hiring of Jonathan Moyo as a Zanu (PF) adviser should serve as a warning to all of us. Faced with certain defeat against democratic forces movement in the 1999 referendum, he shifted the goal posts. He knew that there was no chance of people voting with Zanu (PF) so he included things that people did not like so that they would vote against the draft constitution. In doing so we delivered the result that Zanu (PF) wanted – the return to the patched up Lancaster House constitution.
In one stroke Jonathan Moyo and Godfrey Chidyausiku delivered to Zanu (PF) the victory they were craving. The same scenario is about to repeat itself again. While civil society is busy campaigning against the undemocratic manner in which the reform is being done, Zanu (PF) is busy forcing people not to take part in the process. Both these measures will result in fewer people engaging with the process and as a result a poorer product at the end of the process. The reason why Zanu (PF) want the Kariba Draft is that it keeps most of the controversial presidential powers in the person of the President. The plan in Zanu (PF) is to deliver a constitution that has controversial provisions so that people will once again vote against the new constitution.
How then do we deal with this problem? We have to set ourselves benchmarks that will allow us to support the new constitution. Even with flaws a new constitution is better than the patched up Lancaster House constitution. Some of the key things I would like to get out of this process are:
1. To enshrine the supremacy of parliament over the executive
2. That all senior appointments in government and quasi government bodies by the executive are ratified by both houses of parliament
3. That the President does not have power to override parliamentary legislation except in an emergency and that such temporary legislation is ratified by parliament within 21 days
4. That all judiciary nominations are subject to ratification by parliament through its Judicial Services Committee
5. That we have a fixed term parliament
6. That Presidents are limited to two five year terms
If we can ensure that these values are in our new constitution then we would have gone a long way in changing the politics of our country. This will ensure that the checks and balances on the executive are there.
However, if we choose to fight each other and oppose the new constitution then we risk giving Zanu (PF) the right to ride roughshod over us for another generation. It is in Zanu (PF) interests to maintain the status quo and the infighting among the democratic forces plays right into their plan. The lesson we should take from 1999 is that it is better to adopt a new constitution with some flaws and then hope that we can refine it over the coming years. There is no guarantee that a constitution that includes all the things that different interest groups are pushing for will be a good constitution.
Let us stop ZANU PF by coming together and working together to influence the constitutional process. When the constitution comes to a referendum then we should push for a Yes Vote if we think that it reduces the Executives powers especially those of the President. I urge the NCA and its Civil Society partners to do the right thing by ensuring that we do not have another five years of the patched up Lancaster House Constitution. ZANU PF will laugh all the way to the ballot box if we do not reform the constitution.Post published in: Opinions