Constitution-making Process Set in Motion

HARARE – THE process of introducing a new constitution will roll into motion next week when a crucial parliamentary select committee is appointed to spearhead the exercise expected to lead to fresh elections after 18 months.

The move will mark a major step in the implementation of the global political agreement (GPA) which led to the current inclusive government.

Civil society groups, particularly the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), have warned they would oppose a constitutional reform process driven by self-interested political parties, saying it wants a “people-driven process”.

Sources within Zanu PF and the MDC said the parliamentary committee would be appointed next week and would have up to 50 members.

The committee, whose structure would also include sub-committees, would use the draft constitution agreed by Zanu PF and MDC negotiators in 2007.

The so-called Kariba draft would be the basis for consultations which should lead to an improved document.
After consultations, the draft would be subjected to a national referendum.  

Sources said the committee would start working next month for a period of 18 months after which fresh elections would be held.

President Robert Mugabe said last month there would be elections after the new constitution had been agreed.

Mugabe’s presidency is badly tainted by his claimed electoral victory in an election run-off in June last year secured through a campaign of violence.

Zimbabwe would soon be in an electioneering mode again if the constitutional process succeeds and parties agree to go to elections.

“A parliamentary select committee will almost certainly be appointed next week to begin the constitutional reform process. It will have between 35 and 50 members,” a leading negotiator with one of the parties said.

“The select committee will start work on April 14 and for the following 18 months will be seized with gathering people’s views on the relevant draft and how it can be improved.”

According to Article 6 of the global political agreement, a select committee will be
composed of MPs and representatives of civil society, but the committee will have a final say in the crafting of the draft.

The agreement states that the select committee should be in place two months after the formation of the inclusive government and should convene an “all-stakeholders” conference within three months after its appointment.

The public consultation process, the pact reads, should be completed no later than four months after the stakeholders’ conference.

“The draft constitution shall be tabled within three months of completion of the public consultation process to a second all-stakeholders conference,” reads the GPA.

“The draft constitution and the accompanying report shall be tabled before parliament within one month of the second all-stakeholders conference.”

The draft and the accompanying report would then be debated and if necessary amended in parliament within one month, before it is gazetted and a referendum conducted within three months.

In the event that the draft is approved in the referendum, it shall be gazetted within a month of the date of the plebiscite and would be introduced in parliament not later than a month after the expiration of a period of 30 days from the date of the gazetting.

Zimbabwe is currently governed under the 1979 constitution agreed at the Lancaster House talks in London. The constitution has been amended 19 times since the country’s Independence in 1980.

An attempt to introduce a new constitution between 1999 and 2000 failed after the NCA and other civil society organisations, backed by a nascent MDC, successfully campaigned against a government-sponsored draft.

A fierce political battle is expected when the draft goes to a referendum.

NCA chair Lovemore Madhuku has already declared war against the draft.

“People must write their own constitution directly, not through politicians, parliamentarians or government. The surest way to make sure that a constitution is respected is if it is written by the people themselves and carries their word,” Madhuku said after the signing of the GPA.

“Article 6 of the agreement is a direct insult to the need for a people-driven constitution. It is an arrogant approach to the whole constitution-making process.”

After the agreement, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions president Lovemore Matombo also denounced the process as flawed.

“It is merely an act of consolidation of power taking us back to the era of one-party states. Constitution-making processes are algebraic in nature. If you don’t get the formulae right, then you won’t get the answer right,” he said. The Zimbabwe Independent