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to shape next year's election battleground
Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR)
Benedict Unendoro (AR No. 124, 30-Jul-07)
July 30, 2007
The future of
President Robert Mugabe is the underlying theme to two bills which
will be debated in the Zimbabwean parliament during its current
session, the last before elections are held in March next year.
A set of amendments
contained in the two bills will define many of the rules for the
presidential and parliamentary elections which are likely to be
held simultaneously next March. It also makes provision for what
would happen if Mugabe chose to stand down.
Opening parliament on July 24, President Mugabe said, "Your
task as parliamentarians during this session is a mammoth one."
The most controversial
bill on the agenda would amend the constitution to allow both houses
of parliament to sit jointly as an electoral college to select a
replacement should a sitting president resign, die, or be impeached
or otherwise incapacitated. The replacement would serve until the
end of the elected president's term in office.
The change would
give Mugabe some breathing-space in the event that he decided to
step down as head of state, since his immediate successor would
be handpicked rather than a potentially troublesome figure who came
to power through direct elections.
- including those in the faction-riven ZANU-PF - see
the change as opening up an exit route that Mugabe might conceivably
use. Opposition politicians, however, say it is just a ruse to wrong-foot
dissenters within ZANU-PF, and in reality the president is unlikely
to retire swiftly once - as seems likely - he wins next
Under the same
Bill, the number of seats in the lower house of parliament would
rise from 120 to 210 while the number of senators in the upper chamber
would go from 66 to 84.
bill would establish a human rights commission for Zimbabwe.
The second bill
due to be tabled would set out the management of the electoral process,
from drawing constituency boundaries and registering voters to running
the elections themselves. This law is not expected to change past
practice where Mugabe loyalists have overseen the whole process.
bills have inherent dangers lurking in them," said Absolom
Choga, a member of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change,
MDC. "Mugabe wants to remain in power and is the ruling party's
candidate in next year's presidential elections. So the bills
will be tailored in such a way that this is fulfilled, prolonging
the country's political and economic crisis."
Chogo sees the
two bills as complementary. The electoral bill will ensure that
the additional seats in both houses of parliament will go to the
ruling ZANU-PF party, while constituency boundaries will be gerrymandered
for partisan reasons. The additional seats are being created in
those areas where Mugabe's support is solid, while the number
of opposition-friendly constituencies is being reduced.
Chogo said he
agreed with former information and publicity minister Jonathan Moyo,
who wrote in the Zimbabwe Independent recently that in expanding
the two houses of parliament, Mugabe was simply extending his own
The MDC has
already complained that the ongoing registration of voters is being
done in a way that makes it impossible for its supporters to sign
up, thereby skewing the elections before they are held.
encountered a plethora of obstacles," said MDC spokesman Nelson
Chamisa last month. "People suspected of being sympathetic
to the MDC are being denied the chance to register . . . this is
a nationwide problem."
that in rural areas, chiefs and other traditional leaders, who were
well known for their loyalty to Mugabe and ZANU-PF, had been given
the job of screening and vetting people wishing to register, and
they were blocking known opposition supporters.
chairman of the National
Constitutional Assembly, a non-government organisation which
has pressed for an all-new democratic constitution, last week described
the 18th Amendment Bill as "treacherous and contemptuous."
needs a constitution that entrenches human rights and freedoms,
ensures a free and open society and an electoral system that gives
citizens power to elect leaders who are responsive to their needs,"
suggested that the constitutional amendment would scupper the mediation
effort led by South African President Thabo Mbeki on behalf of the
Southern African Development Community to negotiate a political
settlement between the Zimbabwean government and the opposition.
goes against the spirit of dialogue. The basis for dialogue is to
replace unilateral decision-making with consensus and the inclusion
of the opposition," said Madhuku. "The amendment has its
origin entirely in the ZANU PF politburo."
MDC leader Morgan
Tsvangirai last week urged Mugabe to withdraw the bill as a sign
he was serious about the Mbeki-led talks.
Moyo, who is
now the only independent legislator in parliament after losing his
government post after falling out with Mugabe, urged mediators not
to ignore the 18th Amendment Bill, otherwise they risked "dropping,
if not losing, the ball". That, he warned, "would most
certainly result in embarrassing failure with catastrophic consequences".
At the same
time, he said the bill could offer "the best opportunity for
a meaningful compromise towards the much-needed transition from
crisis to sustainable development under a democratic dispensation",
provided ZANU-PF and the MDC could discuss the proposal in a mature
that a workable version of the bill would stipulate an independent
registrar to oversee voter lists; accountable and representative
commissions to manage constituency demarcation and the elections
themselves; freedom for anyone to conduct voter education; and access
to media for all political parties and candidates well in advance
of any vote.
session of parliament will also see discussions on a third contentious
bill, which would effectively allow the government to nationalise
foreign-owned companies by requiring that 51 per cent of the
shares in any firm are owned by indigenous Zimbabweans.
When the government
ordered retailers to slash their prices last month in a bid to curb
inflation, Mugabe warned businesses that they could face nationalisation
if they did not comply.
that although Mugabe may see the bill as a way of bolster support
in the business sector ahead of next year's elections, it
would in reality lead to the flight of investors, doing further
damage to the country's economy.
is the pseudonym of a reporter in Harare.
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