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This article participates on the following special index pages:
Constitutional Amendment 18 of 2007 - Index of articles, opinion and anaylsis
deal opens up cracks in opposition
Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR)
Joseph Sithole (AR No. 136, 03-Oct-07)
October 03, 2007
the special index of articles, analysis and opinion on Constitutional
ranks of the Zimbabwean opposition have been strained by a row in
which the main political party, the Movement for Democratic Change,
has been accused of cutting a deal with the authorities.
Members of parliament
from the Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, shocked and angered
opposition pressure groups by backing Constitutional Amendment No.
18 Bill, proposed by the Zimbabwean authorities.
All 111 members present
in the House of Assembly parliament voted in favour of the bill
on September 20, agreeing that it was "in the national interest".
On September 25, the bill went through the Senate unopposed, backed
by all 56 members present.
Although a senior figure
in the Movement for Democratic Change, MDC has now apologised to
civil society groups, analysts say the rift highlights the differences
between hard-nosed politicians and the pro-democracy and rights
activists who also claim a role in the political process.
The bill sets out a framework
for holding combined presidential, parliamentary and local elections
next year, by cutting short the present legislature's life
by two years and reducing the president's term in office from
the current six years to five.
Once President Robert
Mugabe gives his assent and the bill becomes law, it will expand
the House of Assembly from 150 to 210 seats, and the upper house
or Senate from 66 to 93, by redrawing constituency boundaries. Critics
say this will allow Mugabe to gerrymander constituencies, extending
them in his rural strongholds while reducing them in urban areas
where the MDC has more support.
Another contentious provision
states that if the incumbent president resigns or becomes unable
to carry out his duties, the two houses of parliament form an electoral
college to select a candidate to complete the remaining portion
of the incumbent's term. Once again, critics say this will
allow Mugabe to handpick a successor whose position will be fairly
secure by the time of the next presidential ballot.
Civil society leaders
were furious with the MDC's role in the vote, accusing it
of selling out to ZANU-PF - specifically by accepting constitutional
amendments rather than holding out for the opposition's longstanding
demand for a completely rewritten document.
severing ties with the MDC over their going to bed with ZANU-PF,"
said Lovemore Madhuku, the chairman of the National
Constitutional Assembly, NCA, a pressure group which advocates
a new constitution.
He said the root of Zimbabwe's
problems was "bad and undemocratic governance" which
could only be resolved by a new constitution.
The NCA is a member of
the broader Save Zimbabwe Campaign, which also includes the MDC's
Until now, opposition
groups and the MDC have presented a more or less united front, leaving
something of a grey area between the political opposition and the
broader constituency of advocacy and rights groups which share its
anti-Mugabe, pro-democracy orientation.
The Mugabe administration
has often used the convergence of opposition interests to accuse
aid groups and others of pursuing a political agenda.
The parliamentary vote
appeared to drive a wedge between the politicians and NGO activists,
with the latter insisting on an all-new constitution, as well as
demanding that they be given a separate role in the continuing negotiations
mediated by South African president Thabo Mbeki on behalf of the
Southern African Development Community, SADC.
In its response
to constitutional amendment vote, the Crisis
in Zimbabwe Coalition - another member of the Save Zimbabwe
Campaign - described it as "a serious infringement of
our principle that a new constitution must be derived from a people-driven
It continued, "SADC
mediation has not taken into account the input of the ordinary people
of Zimbabwe as represented by civil society organisations, and therefore
is flawed . . . . We therefore call upon SADC and in particular
President Mbeki of South Africa to accept the principle that the
future of Zimbabwe cannot be resolved by secret talks between MDC
and ZANU-PF. In this respect we do not accept the exclusion of civil
society and other political parties from the current SADC talks."
In an interview for the
privately-owned Financial Gazette, Madhuku adopted a similar line,
suggesting that real constitutional change would only be achieved
when "the process of constitution-making is taken away from
politicians" and the ZANU-PF government was "forced
by mass pressure to accept democratic reforms".
A politics lecturer at
the University of Zimbabwe, who requested anonymity, said the NCA
was being unrealistic about its role in the political process.
want to say they are naïve, because I am also for a new constitution,
given the option," he told IWPR. "But to be dogmatic
about it in the face of widespread suffering in the country and
no sign of a breakthrough, I think, is being unrealistic. There
has never in the whole world been the idealistic constitution that
is driven by all the people in the true sense of the word.
The lecturer said that
during the negotiations, the leader of the bigger MDC faction, Morgan
Tsvangirai, had objected to the "elitist" exclusivity
of the process, but had ultimately realised it was futile to try
to involve everybody.
"That perhaps also
explains the cloak of secrecy around the negotiations imposed by
the mediator. It probably explains too why civil society involvement
has been restricted to a minimum after Mbeki said he did not want
to negotiate through the media," he said.
One of the MDC's
chief negotiators, Welshman Ncube, was unperturbed by Madhuku's
anger at the agreement, saying the party was prepared to differ
with civil society groups because they occupied different domains.
The problem with Zimbabwe's
pressure groups, he said, was that they were beginning to see themselves
as political players instead of playing an advocacy role.
"You should not
seek to conflate and subsume civil society as an extension of the
MDC or the opposition," Ncube told SW Radio Africa.
is about politics. It is about competing for political office. Civil
society is about advocacy, about specific certain issues which fall
within the areas of those civil society organisations . . . . [It]
ought to be independent, ought to have its own views and indeed,
in a proper democracy, they should not always be agreeing with the
He concluded, "Madhuku
and the NCA will now have to decide whether they want to join mainstream
politics or maintain their advocacy role. Madhuku should not confuse
the role of political parties and that of civil society organisations."
As the constitutional
amendments, Ncube downplayed their significance as a "side
agreement" designed to build confidence in the negotiating
Some observers believe
it was Mbeki who encouraged the MDC's to take the pragmatic
step of supporting rather than fighting the constitutional bill.
"It must have been
evident to Mbeki that the MDC was not making headway with its current
on-and-off skirmishes with the ruling party," said the politics
lecturer in Harare, noting that SADC members were worried by the
Zimbabwe crisis and wanted a solution "yesterday".
Another analyst said
politicians were by nature liable to grasp at compromises, in contrast
to groups like the NCA which tended to "insist on issues of
He pointed out that even
without the MDC's backing, ZANU-PF would have won the parliamentary
vote easily. By cooperating, the opposition party managed at least
to get one positive change made to the bill - the deletion
of a clause allowing President Mugabe to appoint up to 30 members
of parliament, who will now be directly elected instead.
their own weaknesses, and sooner or later you must decide whether
you get something or lose everything," he said.
On October 1, the ZimOnline
news site reported that at a weekend meeting in Bulawayo, civil
society leaders and the MDC reached an accommodation after Elton
Mangoma, treasurer in the Morgan Tsvangirai-led faction of the MDC,
apologised for the "blunder" of failing to consult civil
society groups on the constitutional bill.
Joseph Sithole is the
pseudonym of a journalist in Zimbabwe
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