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  • New Constitution-making process - Index of articles

  • Of camels, constitutions, and elections
    Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) and Idasa
    February 25, 2013

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    A wit once commented that a camel was a horse designed by a committee. Very rarely are designs of anything useful the result of compromises, and especially compromises where the parties involved in design have radically different ideas. This might be a fair characterization of the draft constitution. This was perhaps inevitable with the Global Political Agreement as it stood, for this was not a transitional arrangement, but a peace agreement to lead to a transition, which it patently has not done.

    SADC subsequently (and repeatedly) has insisted on a very simple understanding of what should happen under the GPA: A new constitution and reforms in the many areas that would guarantee acceptable elections. Note the expected direction of events: Constitution and reform, then elections, not constitution, then elections and thereafter reform. The latter is now what Zimbabwe will offer SADC.

    In 2010, RAU pointed out that there were no good grounds for expecting that the GPA would lead to any significant reforms and the only probable way of resolving the inherent problems in the GPA would be an election, and an election that ZANU PF could not afford to lose. We were pessimistic about the chances of getting a new constitution, and even more pessimistic about the chances of reform. We were wrong about the constitution - we now have a draft ready for referendum – but we were wholly correct about the lack of reforms. RAU, SAPES, Solidarity Peace Trust, and the Zimbabwe Liberators Platform, have consistently argued that the political crisis cannot be resolved by constitutional change in the absence of major reforms - the restoration of national institutions as we have termed this. As we pointed out in March 2012:

    Whether we are talking about elections or “normal” civic life, it seems evident that much needs to be done before Zimbabwe could be seen once again to approximate a democracy. It is evident that much must be done to ensure that elections conform to just the minimum standards advocated by SADC, and considerably more if the range of possible rigging strategies is to be reduced. However, even if the necessary reforms to the electoral law and the implementing body take place, and even if a new constitution emerges out of the very conflictual constitutional reform process, little of this will matter if the institutions that must support the constitution and the electoral machinery are not brought under full civilian control, and serve the citizenry as a whole. Restoring our badly compromised national institutions is not an adjunct to electoral and constitutional reform, it will be fundamental to the success of these reforms, valid elections, and indispensable to civic life as a whole.

    These views are just as relevant in February 2013, and have been echoed recently by both Dr Mandaza of SAPES and Wilfred Mhanda of the ZLP.

    RAU has also pointed out recently that it is possible to de-link the issues of constitution and elections. Certainly if the Government were to take seriously their commitments under the GPA (and to SADC), then it would acknowledge that the reform process has been still-born, and that the conditions for elections are not in place. Furthermore, they are not in place even for the holding of a constitutional election.

    Against all of this, the referendum is clearly not unimportant, and there are some very difficult issues to confront around the referendum, not simply resolved by arguments over whether to vote Yes or No.

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