Zimbabwe’s new constitution is a political horse trade, but outlooks are hopeful

By IndepthAfrica
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Feb 11th, 2013
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On 6 February 2013, the draft for the new constitution of Zimbabwe finally reached the country’s parliament, which will engage in further discussion of the document. As all major parties support the new constitution, over which the population will vote in April, it is unlikely that the legislative will prevent its introduction.

Over three years, the two major parties, Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zimbabwe African National Union, and Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change, have haggled over the terms of a new constitution, which was seen as a precondition of the rapprochement of both parties. During the country’s presidential elections in 2008, Mugabe, fearing he might not be re-elected, cracked down violently on members of Tsvangirai’s MDC party. To end the violence, the opposition party’s leader boycotted the presidential election. However, his party replaced the Zanu-PF as the majority party in parliament. As a result, they agreed to a power-sharing deal, which made Tsvangirai the country’s prime minister.

Naturally, both parties tried to implement as many of their interests as possible into the draft of the new constitution. Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change mainly tried to cut the superiority of the presidential office, being Mugabe’s position, and made motions to reduce the long-term ruler’s further powers. In doing so, they achieved several noteworthy successes. The new constitution prevents the president from implementing laws through presidential decrees without involving the parliament. Mugabe had used that option several times, such as allowing the presence of the police at the polls just two months after an electoral reform had banned police forces from polling stations, or to seize property of the business man Mutumwa Mawere. Furthermore, the president will no longer be allowed to appoint the powerful provincial governors. Instead, they will be elected by the people. In addition to that, the constitution includes the impartiality of the police and military regarding political parties, as well as the establishment of a new impartial constitutional court.

In contrast to that, Mugabe tried to implement clauses in the constitution which would help him to maintain his power after the next election. He tabled a motion that the new constraint of the presidential term (2 x 5 year terms) would not apply retroactively, so that he can theoretically remain president until he is 99 years old. Additionally, the draft for the constitution acknowledges the correctness of Mugabe’s seizures of white-owned property, a central policy with which he has appealed to many poor and uneducated Zimbabweans. Many key figures within the Zanu-PF strive for the succession of 89 year old Robert Mugabe. However, being politically weakened through the power-sharing deal, he may not allow an internal split. To that end, the new constitution does not require the presidential candidates to appoint vice candidates in advance, so the question of succession can remain open until the elections have taken place.

However, the draft for the new Zimbabwean constitution seems to be a horse-trade between the country’s two major parties; it still contains numerous improvements for the crisis-ridden country. Mugabe’s advancing age, and the election success of the Movement for Democratic Change in 2008, contribute to the possibility that the country might experience a change of power soon. However, the power of the old dictator must not be underestimated, and it is not certain at all that he will adhere to the new rules.

Fabian Scherer

f.scherer@politicalanalysis.co.za

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