Mudede divides Cabinet

THE gloves are off in the inclusive government over the holding of the constitutional referendum with high-level discussions on the amendment of the enabling legislation having to be struck off this week’s Cabinet agenda; raising suspicions that President Robert Mugabe wants to maintain the status quo despite pressure from his rivals.

As part of the reform agenda preceding the liquidation of the inclusive government, it has been proposed that Registrar General Tobaiwa Mudede’s office, which has been in charge of all elections held in Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, be excluded from the conduct of national polls to remove suspicions of vote rigging that have dogged previous electoral processes.

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It is being proposed to transfer the responsibility to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), reconstituted soon after the consummation of the government of national unity (GNU) in February 2009.

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Critics accuse Mudede of manipulating the electoral processes in favour of ZANU-PF, a charge he denies.

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Mudede might not be going anywhere after all because ZANU-PF seems determined to secure his role.

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Reformists were shocked this week to see that an item on amendments to the Referendums Act had been unilaterally removed from the Cabinet agenda without any explanation.

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Also struck off the agenda were items dealing with legislative matters, turning the clock backwards on anticipated reforms ahead of the elections next year.

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Part of the proposed changes in the Referen-dum Act included barring President Mugabe from having veto powers on the referendum.

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Eric Matinenga, the Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, is leading efforts to repeal the Referendums Act.

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While ZEC is in support of the amendments, Justice and Legal Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa differed. Chinamasa, who was not immediately available for comment, says there is no need to repeal or amend the Act. ZANU-PF has thrown in lot with Chinamasa who is believed to have masterminded the removal of the item from the Cabinet agenda much to the chagrin of Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) parties.

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A Cabinet agenda circulated to ministers on Monday had appeared to swing the pendulum in favour of reformists but a new agenda issued during Cabinet the following day proved otherwise.

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Matinenga confirmed the latest development.

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“It was a big upset, it was on the agenda that was circulated, but on Tuesday it had been removed. We currently have a Referendum Act that I seek to change,” he said.

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Matinenga had also hoped to give back the vote to Zimbabweans whose grandparents came from other countries like Malawi after Mudede disenfranchised them by labelling them “aliens”.

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“Mudede has been declaring them non citizens for reasons best known to him when the Constitution is clear that they are citizens,” said Matinenga.
ZANU-PF spokesperson, Rugare Gumbo, said his party would not yield on the issue.

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“We go by what Chinamasa has said. We can’t invent new positions. He is our party’s deputy secretary for legal affairs. His views are our views,” said Gumbo.

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The party’s secretary for administration, Didymus Mutasa, said the issue of amending or repealing the Referendums Act has never been on the agenda of the ZANU-PF Politburo, which is the supreme desicion-making organ of the party.

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The development has poisoned relations in Cabinet, torn apart by differences over the draft constitution that got the thumbs up from the MDC formations but was rejected by ZANU-PF, which wants the draft charter amended before it could be presented for a referendum.

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These sharp differences could derail plans to hold the referendum in October as earlier envisaged.

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The development comes barely a week after the political leadership of the three parties in the GNU had once again received counsel from the Southern African Development Community which held its 32nd summit in Maputo, Mozambique last week imploring them to conclude the constitution-making process and the election roadmap to pave way for free and fair elections.

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The replacement of the colonial Lancaster House Constitution with a new charter is supposed to be one of the milestones for the unity government since its formation.

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Matinenga had an ambitious plan to include the diaspora vote in the new charter, but this was shot down. The minister was this week adamant that there would be no compromise in barring Mudede from involvement in the referendum on grounds that all voting matters must be handled by ZEC.

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Matinenga is still pressing to have the issue discussed at next week’s Cabinet meeting.

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Elections watchdogs agree with Matinenga. In an analysis of the law, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) said the law does not give Parliament a meaningful role to play.

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“The (Referendum) Act needs revisiting in the manner in which it gives the President alone power to call for referendum when he deems it fit. In addition, the Referendum Act does not make any distinction between mandatory and non-mandatory referendums and neither does the Constitution of Zimbabwe make that distinction. The referendum law again does not give Parliament any role to play in setting the agenda for a referendum yet it is assumed to be a body representative of the will of the people,” said ZESN.

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“There is need to harmonise the Referendum Act and the Electoral Act as well as the constitution as ZEC is constitutionally mandated to prepare for, conduct and supervise elections and referendums. This provision is in conflict with the powers of the President as stipulated in the Referendum Act. These are among some of the critical issues that need to be analysed and add-ressed as Zimbabwe prepares for the referendum.” – The Financial Gazette