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Bill crafted to extend Mugabe tenure - ZESN
Orirando Manwere, Zimbabwe Independent (Harare)

June 22, 2007

THE Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No18) Bill has been crafted to ensure President Robert Mugabe and his ruling Zanu PF party stay in power until 2010 and also gives him and a partisan parliament exclusive powers to manipulate the electoral system and decide on critical national issues without involving the majority, an electoral monitoring body has said.

A detailed analysis produced this week by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn)'s lawyers says clause 2(2) of the Bill allows Mugabe to remain in office until parliament is dissolved in 2010.

The clause states that "the amendments made by sub-section (1) apply to the president in office on the date of commencement of this Act, notwithstanding anything contained in Section 29 before its amendment by this Act".

However, according to Zesn, the amendments made by subsection (1) of clause 28 provide that an election to the office of president must take place at the same time as a general election of members of parliament.

"So the effect of (2) is that President Mugabe (who will be the president in office when the Bill comes into force as an Act) need not subject himself to re-election until the next general election is held in 2010.

"This applies notwith-standing the current Section 29 of the Constitution, which states that the presidential term is limited to six years. His term, in other words, is extended to the next general election. So President Mugabe will not have to face the voters until 2010, unless he chooses to dissolve parliament before then in 2008.

"The true import of clause 2(2) needs to be clearly understood," reads the Zesn statement.

On the proposals to allow parliament to elect a new president in the event of the incumbent's death, resignation or removal, Zesn says this was undemocratic because an executive president must be elected by a popular vote.

According to the new section 28 (3) (b), if the president dies, resigns or is removed from office, the Senate and the House of Assembly must sit together within 90 days and elect a new president. A president so elected will hold office for the life of the current parliament

"The Bill does not specify any particular majority by which a new president must be elected, so one must assume that a simple majority of the Senators and MPs present and voting will suffice.

"This change has been foreshadowed by discussions in the press. It is widely believed that President Mugabe wants to contest the next presidential election and then, if he wins, steps down in favour of a chosen successor who will be duly elected by a grateful party using its majority in parliament.

"This proposed change is undemo-cratic, because if it is accepted that an executive president must be elected by popular vote, which the Constitution does in Section 28(2), then his or her successor should be similarly elected," says Zesn.

Zesn says the fact that elections are expensive cannot justify a provision that would allow an executive president to hold office without a popular mandate.

It says the only exception might be if the president died or resigned shortly before his or her term of office was due to expire within six months. In that event a successor could be chosen by parliament, but even then it would be better to allow one of the vice-presidents to act until the next presidential election.

On the proposed expansion of parliament Zesn says the increase is undesirable.

"Parliament is an expensive institution, and increasing its membership will increase the expense. The only discernible reason for the increase is to extend the government's power of patronage. This is unjustifiable, particularly in the current economic environment.

"Ten members of the Senate will be provincial governors, 18 will be chiefs and six will be appointed by the president. Since the president appoints provincial governors and chiefs, he will have 34 appointees in the Senate; at present he has only 16.

"Under the Bill, the House will have 210 members of whom 200 will be elected on a constituency basis and 10 will be appointed by the president.

"So far as presidential appointees are concerned, what the House of Assembly has lost the Senate will gain. The total number of presidential appointees in parliament will be reduced from 46 to 44.

Zesn argues that both Houses of Parliament, except for the Chiefs, must be elected.

It says chiefs should be outside politics and can remain as an advisory council such as the case in Lesotho and other countries to ensure that they are non-partisan and embrace all citizens without favour or bias due to political affiliation.

On the Delimitation Commission and its functions, Zesn says the proposed commission is partisan as it is appointed by and reports to the president. It says an independent electoral body should play that role.

Clause 10 of the Bill will replace Section 60 of the Constitution. According to the Bill's memorandum, the replacement is "consequential to the provision for the increase in the number of elected House of Assembly seats to make the delimitation commission responsible for determining the boundaries of the senatorial constituencies."

Zesn notes that the memorandum is not entirely frank as it makes at least one amendment, which is unrelated to the increase in the number of seats.

Under the present Section 60(4) the commission may allow the number of voters in each constituency to vary by up to 20%. Under the Bill the permissible variation is increased to 25% which is a significant increase.

Zesn also notes is that while the delimitation commission must take into account such factors as community of interest between voters, physical features and so on when fixing the boundaries of House of Assembly constituencies, it will be allowed to disregard all such factors when delimiting senatorial constituencies according to the new Section 60(5) of the Bill.

The president, who needs merely to consult the Chief Justice or the chairman before appointing them, appoints all the members of the commission. With such a potentially biased commission, any relaxation of rules regarding delimitation must be viewed with suspicion, says Zesn.

The increased number of seats in the House of Assembly will necessitate the creation of 80 new constituencies. The delimitation commission will also delimit five senatorial constituencies in each province consisting of groups of contiguous house of assembly constituencies.

"Before the 2005 parliamentary elections, a number of constituency boundaries were redrawn to give the ruling party an electoral advantage," said Zesn. "Certain constituencies dominated by Zanu PF like Gokwe were split to create individual constituencies without any justification of demographic changes.

"On the other hand, some urban constituencies, which are the stronghold of the MDC, were redrawn to incorporate abutting rural areas where Zanu PF had support."

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