Building vibrant and tolerant democracies
Everyone knew that the constitution-making process in Zimbabwe would be fraught with tension since the two MDC formations and President Mugabe's ZANU-PF were always going to fight fiercely over the terms of the country’s new supreme law. Much has been said about the futility of this process since ZANU-PF has repeatedly indicated its eagerness to contest elections under the current constitution, which has become more likely given its recent re-drafting shenanigans that were cleverly designed to create a deadlock in the drafting process.
Some background first – in July 2012, the official constitution-drafting body, COPAC, published the second draft constitution – something that can best be described as a negotiated settlement between the key parties after a politically-charged community consultation process. The draft did not bode well for the interests of ZANU-PF officials, so they rewrote the document to their liking and presented it with great fanfare to COPAC and the nation - thereby undermining the entire purpose of democratic constitution-drafting and forcing the two MDC formations to declare a deadlock, which is exactly what ZANU-PF wanted.
ZANU-PF‘s new constitutional draft is an absolutely fascinating read - revealing a carefully thought-out 4-pronged strategy as well as much of the inner psyche and paranoia of the party, and also their political skill and determination to hold on to power.
The first part of the strategy focused on amending the draft constitution to afford more power to the President – essentially, allowing him to do anything he wants without the need for consultation or accountability. According to ZANU-PF, Vice-Presidents should not be elected, but appointed by the President and they should be accountable to the President and not parliament. The amendments have also removed any real reason for having a Cabinet or Speaker of Parliament. If ZANU-PF had its way, the President would effectively be able to veto all Bills, which he - or the party - did not agree with. And when the President dies, or becomes incapacitated, his party would decide which of the Vice-Presidents should take over.
Giving the President more power is in direct contrast to the previously discussed proposal of devolution of power to lower structures and communities. This concept was widely supported by communities during the constitution-drafting process and included in the draft constitution. Needless to say, devolution of power is not supported by ZANU-PF and was accordingly not included in their amended draft version of the constitution.
The second strategy is a calculated move to show their benevolence to key groups by inserting some specifically-targeted provisions, including:
The third strategy is designed to limit international influence over ZANU-PF’s vision of an autocratic state. ZANU-PF has sought to delete, or water down, provisions aimed at applying international law to Zimbabwe. They deleted the provision providing for domestication of international instruments. To ensure that constitutional provisions cannot be given a broad interpretation, the party removed every phrase in the draft Constitution which referred to an 'open, just and democratic society'. ZANU-PF also included a phrase allowing rights to be restricted based on 'national security'.
The fourth strategy looks like typical electioneering - and aims to appease conservative, traditional and religious sectors, and force the opposition to come out in support of minority groups. If ZANU-PF had their way, freedom to demonstrate and broadcast would be restricted to citizens and permanent residents; dual citizenship would be prohibited; and a foreigner married to a Zimbabwean would only be able to obtain permanent residency after ten years, as opposed to the current requirement of five.
The broad right to make decisions on reproduction that is included in the draft C=constitution has been deliberately limited in ZANU-PF’s amended version to decisions on contraceptives, child-spacing and family-size. From the right to privacy, ZANU-PF has deleted the right not to have one’s health condition disclosed. Similarly, in relation to the freedom of the press, ZANU-PF has removed the protection for the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.
The status of traditional leaders is further strengthened. Specifically, ZANU-PF’s amendments remove the clause in the draft constitution that prohibited traditional leaders from acting in a partisan manner, participating in political parties or violating the fundamental rights of persons.
As part of their fourth strategy - and to present itself as a ‘morally pure’ party, ZANU-PF has gone on an all-out attack on gays and lesbians. Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) has been experiencing increased harassment over recent weeks with disruption of their meetings, assaults on their members, repeated arrests of members and staff, and raids on their offices. As part of this move, ZANU-PF’s draft amendments to the Constitution explicitly ban same-sex marriage and prohibit 'homosexuality, gays and lesbian practices'. Whatever this unwieldy clause might mean, it suggests a full onslaught on people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity in the run-up to the elections.
As everyone holds their breath to see what will happen, the deadlock is an ominous sign of a party that is in crisis - but that is using every possible tool to hold onto power.ShareThis