All you need to know about Amendment 19

Whatever their differences, Zimbabwe stands at the last crossroads; the country’s future has never looked bleaker and the adoption of Amendment 19 never more important.

What is Amendment 19 of the Zimbabwe Constitution?

Amendment 19 will bring into law a power-sharing deal signed between President Robert Mugabe, leader of the ZANU-PF party, Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), and Arthur Mutambara, an MDC breakaway party, on 15 September 2008.

Why is it important?

There is no "Plan B" for a political settlement in Zimbabwe and the country is staring into the void of a failed state. The once prosperous southern African country endures the highest inflation rate in history, estimated at 89.7 sextillion percent, or 89,700,000,000,000,000,000,000 percent, by the Cato Institute, a non-profit public policy research foundation based in Washington, in the US.

The collapse of services like health, sanitation and water has been the catalyst for a widespread cholera outbreak that has claimed the lives of nearly 1,000 people since August, with few signs of the disease abating.

About 5.1 million people, or nearly half the population, require food aid, and little respite is expected from the March 2009 harvest. Soldiers, one of the last redoubts of Mugabe’s 28-year rule, have rioted, and abductions of political activists, allegedly by government security agents, continue.

The migration of citizens to neighbouring states remains one-way traffic. More than 3 million people, or a quarter of the population, are thought to have left Zimbabwe in the last decade for neighbouring states like South Africa and Botswana, or further afield for Britain, Australia and the US. There is fear that Mugabe will declare a state of emergency in a final showdown with the opposition and other political dissidents before Amendment 19 is promulgated.

When will the amendment be passed?

Amendment 19 was printed in the government gazette on 13 December 2008. The soonest the amendment could be on the statute books, should it have a smooth passage through Zimbabwe’s rough political waters, is mid-January 2009. Its adoption requires a two-thirds majority in parliament.

What are the major pitfalls?

The MDC are demanding that a legal basis for the National Security Council (NSC) – which will replace the Joint Operations Command (JOC), comprised of the army, police and intelligence chiefs loyal to Mugabe – be nailed down before the amendment is tabled in parliament. Such an agreement will give the MDC a major stake in the NSC, enabling it to thwart "unlawful" activities, whereas previously it played no role in the JOC.

Other concerns that the MDC has are the apportioning of ministerial portfolios between the parties, which hit a wall over who controls Home Affairs, and through it the police; the reappointment of provincial governors to reflect the party holding the majority of MPs in each province; and the return of all diplomats, and their replacement in terms of the power-sharing agreement.

How will the 19 Amendment affect the balance of power?

The amendment not only imposes checks and balances, but Mugabe will have to cooperate with Tsvangirai in running the country. There is no love lost between the two men.

Executive powers will be divided between an office of the president, held by Mugabe, and a newly created prime ministerial position, held by Tsvangirai.

The president will be invested with such powers as declaring war, making peace, proclaiming and terminating martial law, granting pardons, chairing the cabinet and NSC, appointing independent constitutional commissions and, in consultation with the prime minister, making key appointments "under and in terms of the Constitution or any Act of Parliament".

The president will head cabinet, which will be responsible for formulating policy. The prime minister will chair the Council of Ministers, comprised of all ministers, and responsible for implementation. He will be deputy chair of the cabinet, a member of the NSC, and report regularly to both the president and parliament.

The creation of a prime minister’s office is designed to establish both a counterbalance to Mugabe’s rule and give the MDC a major stake in government, although it is feared this could easily lead to two centres of power and even less cohesion.

The nuts and bolts of the power-sharing deal

Mugabe will appoint two vice-presidents, while Tsvangirai will appoint two deputy prime ministers, one of which will be Mutambara, leader of the MDC breakaway party.

There will be 31 cabinet ministers, 15 nominated by ZANU-PF, 13 appointed by Tsvangirai’s MDC and three by Mutambara’s MDC. Each party may also appoint a maximum of three ministers from outside parliament, who will have the right to engage in parliamentary debates but will not be entitled to vote.

The parties will agree on the equitable distribution of ministerial portfolios.

What happens in by-elections?

For 12 months from the promulgation of Amendment 19, and in consideration of election violence, any vacancies arising in local government or parliament can only be contested by the party that previously held the seat. In the March 2008 elections, the opposition parties won 111 seats in the 210-seat parliament, while ZANU-PF took 99.

Has the deal engendered greater trust?

The straight answer is ‘no’. The state-run daily newspaper, The Herald, continues to routinely insult and attack the MDC as stooges of the West (US and Britain) who are bent on re-colonising the country, and Mugabe’s public speeches maintain the same theme. MDC activists and civil society continue to bear the brunt of state repression.

What is the best-case scenario?

The amendment is adopted in January 2009. A provision in it allows for a new constitution to be drafted to replace the current constitution, and leads to elections in two years, in an environment conducive to free and fair elections.

What is the worst-case scenario?

The amendment is not adopted. The Zimbabwe failed state manifests itself in yet more political violence, widespread disease and hunger, accelerated migration and the destabilisation of the region.

Sources: Institute of Security Studies, Sokwanele, The Herald, MDC, IRIN