MDC fails to limit powers of President

The new constitution fails to limit the excessive powers granted to the president by a series of amendments made to the Lancaster House constitution over the years by Zanu (PF).

Douglas Mwonzora
Douglas Mwonzora

This means the new supreme law of the land will be powerless to protect Zimbabweans against the abuse of power by any sitting president. Analysts and civil society groups say the draft, which is yet to be officially presented to and approved by the three principals in the coalition government, is a disappointment.

Section 6.2 of the new draft gives the president the all-powerful role of Head of State and Government and the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces, and two vice presidents ‘‘to assist’’ him/her – exactly as it is in the existing constitution. According to an inside source, the two MDC parties succumbed to Zanu (PF) pressure to include the excessive presidential powers.

President Robert Mugabe has used these powers to make sweeping decrees that have entrenched his dictatorship and rendered citizens powerless to stop him, or to challenge him in any way – even in the courts.

In the late 1990s, he used the presidential powers to send an army to fight in a civil war in the DRC on the side of the late president, Laurent Kabila, who was being opposed by rebels. This cost Zimbabwe an estimated US$1 million a day, which the country could ill afford. At the same time Zanu (PF) and military chiefs became eye-wateringly wealthy from timber, minerals and supply concessions in that country.

The vice chair of Crisis in Zimbabwe, Grace Chirenje, said decentralisation of the powers of the president was crucial to avoid abuse of power.

“Mugabe has used his excessive powers to abuse the rights of ordinary Zimbabweans and quash growing dissent in the country. Having a constitution that retains the all-powerful presidency is unacceptable – power should not be concentrated in one person,” she said.

Political analyst and National Constitutional Assembly spokesperson, Blessing Vava, said the draft was not different from the much-criticised Kariba Draft Constitution.

That was jointly crafted by President Mugabe’s ZANU (PF) and the two MDC parties led by Morgan Tsvangirai and Welshman Ncube in 2007 as part of negotiations to solve the acute political impasse.

The draft did have some positives, he said, notably good clauses on the rights of children, the youth and the elderly, and free and compulsory education.

“But the essence of constitution making is not to have one good section and most of it bad,” he said.

Outspoken, gender rights lobby group, Women of Zimbabwe Arise, also expressed concern about presidential immunity while in office and the lack of a maximum age limit for the President. “We encourage them (Copac) to swiftly deal with parked issues and submit the draft to the Second Stakeholder’s Conference without further delay,” reads part of Woza’s statement.

Copac confusion

Fears of more delays and confusion continue to mount. There is reported constant haggling among the MDC formations and Zanu (PF) over how some sections of the new constitution should be treated.

In particular, they are quarreling over power devolution, the structure and functions of government and dual citizenship.

“There is a deliberate attempt by politicians, especially those from Zanu (PF), to infuse clauses that safeguard their interests,” said a Copac resource person who refused to be named.

“For example, Zanu (PF) does not want devolution because they fear it will dilute their hold on executive powers. That is why it is still ‘parked’ they are still haggling over it,” added the source.

“The release of the final draft is likely to be delayed further as a result of constant bickering among politicians. They will try to smuggle clauses that suit their ideologies and as you know they have different ideologies, which means they cannot come to an agreement easily.”

COPAC’s co-chair, Douglas Mwonzora, downplayed this, saying: “I do not think the challenges are that fundamental. The draft that came out was agreed on by the technical team where every political party was represented, so I do not see any reason why there should be any serious problems in finalising the process,” he told The Zimbabwean.

“We have sent the document to the management committee and the political parties for their response and assuming everything remains constant, we should be having the final document by end of this month,” added Mwonzora.

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