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Constitutional Amendment 18 of 2007 - Index of articles, opinion and anaylsis
or sell out?
September 28, 2007
the special index of articles, analysis and opinion on Constitutional
ROBERT MUGABE appears
once again to have wrong-footed those who have been trying to oust
him. Britain's prime minister, Gordon Brown, is trying to prevent
Zimbabwe's president from attending a much-heralded summit meeting
of the African Union and the European Union in December. Mr Brown
says he will not attend if Mr Mugabe does. But it seems clear that
most African governments will stay away if Mr Mugabe is excluded.
Portugal, the summit's host, is apparently likely to bow to African
pressure and hold the summit whether or not Mr Brown shows up. And
British officials hint that even if Mr Brown stayed away, other
ministers would almost certainly attend.
Better still for Mr Mugabe,
both factions of Zimbabwe's divided opposition, the Movement for
Democratic Change (MDC), have recently sided with the ruling party,
ZANU-PF, endorsing some controversial constitutional amendments
that may well strengthen its grip. This has dismayed many of the
lobbies-human-rights campaigners, churches, women's groups and so
on-that usually back the MDC, further fracturing an already crumbly
The amendments proposed
by the ruling party allow Parliament, which is dominated by ZANU-PF,
to choose a successor if the president steps down or dies before
the end of his term. Simultaneous parliamentary and presidential
elections look set for March 2008. Seats in the lower house will
increase from 150 to 210, and constituencies will be redrawn. This
will favour rural areas, where ZANU-PF's grip is tighter than in
the towns. The ruling party gave ground by agreeing to limit the
president's power to appoint some members of parliament; a supposedly
revamped electoral commission will be in charge of redrawing constituencies.
Until now, the MDC had
strongly opposed the amendments on the ground that they would entrench
the ruling party ahead of the election. The MDC had insisted on
a new constitution, the repeal of repressive security and media
laws, and for Zimbabwe's diaspora, thought to be more than 3m-strong,
to be allowed to vote. Some pro-reform organisations are aghast
at the MDC'S reversal. The National Constitutional Assembly, a lobby
that for a decade has called for a new constitution, accuses its
former ally of treachery.
For its part, the MDC
calls its volte-face a confidence-building gesture. It has been
talking to ZANU-PF under the auspices of Thabo Mbeki, South Africa's
president, who was asked in March by the
14-country Southern African Development Community (SADC) to help
solve Zimbabwe's crisis. Behind its official policy of united support
for Mr Mugabe, the regional grouping is divided. The British say
that a change of mood was noticeable at the latest SADC summit,
in Lusaka in August, and that countries like Tanzania and even Namibia
that were previously loth to challenge Mr Mugabe have begun to see
his refusal to budge as damaging the whole region.
So SADC has hailed the
constitutional deal as a breakthrough. Enthusiasts point to reports
that ZANU-PF may relax (though not repeal) the media and security
laws and work towards a new constitution-at some stage. Some also
argue that letting Mr Mugabe in effect pick his successor would
make him likelier to step down. Negotiations between his party and
the MDC continue, but it is unclear whether Mr Mugabe's lot will
make serious concessions.
Divide and rule The opposition
is weaker than ever. It has been unable to stir up the millions
of victims of Zimbabwe's economic catastrophe. The MDC faction headed
by Arthur Mutambara said in July that attempts to unite the party
and field a single presidential candidate had failed. He denounced
Morgan Tsvangirai, the party's founder and head of the other faction,
as "weak and indecisive". Meanwhile, many of the party's
mostly urban supporters have left the country: in all, a quarter
of the population may have gone. The MDC's allies look weak too.
A recent strike call by the Congress of Trade Unions was largely
ignored. Other groups' efforts to hold marches and protests have
fizzled; people have long been cowed by the beatings and arrests
routinely inflicted by the regime.
Despite reports that
the latest registration of voters was badly flawed, Mr Mbeki and
some of his fellow leaders in the region are keen for next year's
elections to be deemed reasonably fair, after which they hope that
Mr Mugabe will step down and ZANU-PF will draw one of the MDC factions,
probably the one led by Mr Mutambara rather than Mr Tsvangirai,
into a coalition. That, they hope, will pave the way to an internationally-backed
recovery. Whether Mr Mugabe is contemplating such a scenario is
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