Committee begins work on new constitution

HARARE – The 25-member Parliamentary Select Committee appointed last week to spearhead the re-writing of a new constitution for Zimbabwe has begun its work.\r\n

The committee which comprises legislators from Zanu-PF and the two MDC formations, held its first meeting to map out strategies for the re-writing of a new constitution for Zimbabwe.

The Speaker of the House of Assembly, Mr Lovemore Moyo, urged the committee to do its work diligently and professionally reaching out to all stakeholders so as to allow a broad based participation from all interested Zimbabweans.

The process to re-write a new constitution for Zimbabwe to replace the British crafted Lancaster House constitution was agreed upon by the leaders of Zanu-PF and the two MDC formations when they signed the Global Political Agreement in September last year.

After the completion of the re-drafting of a new constitution that is expected to take between 18 to 24 months, elections will then be held.

Last week, a Zimbabwean constitutional lobby group NCA has rejected parliament’s lead role in writing a new charter, demanding that an independent commission oversees the process many hope will guarantee free and fair future elections.

A new constitution was a key demand of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) for joining a unity government with President Robert Mugabe, who critics say has rigged polls in the last 10 years to stay in power.

Zimbabweans hope a new charter to replace one inked in 1979 would whittle the president’s powers, strengthen the role of parliament and guarantee civil liberties and political freedoms.

The National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), which has campaigned for a new charter for the past decade, said on Wednesday it opposed parliament driving the process and wanted a "reputable" sitting or retired judge to chair an independent commission, which would include civic groups.

"Our point of departure is that we believe the process is not people-driven, it will be controlled by the political parties and our principles stand against this," NCA Chairman Lovemore Madhuku told reporters.

"We are going to start a process of opposing this process. The NCA will campaign for a ‘No Vote’."

The NCA’s stance sets it at odds with its MDC allies. Together they mobilised Zimbabweans to reject a government-sponsored constitution in a 2000 referendum.

Analysts say opposition from the NCA, which groups political parties, rights groups, churches and activists, would stain the credibility of the current process.  

But they also say the NCA, weakened by government crackdowns, may find it impossible to marshal enough support against a new constitution without its MDC allies.

"DEFECTIVE PROCESS"

Madhuku also rejected government’s plans to use a draft constitution agreed to by the MDC and Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party in negotiations in September 2007 as a starting point for consultations around the country.

The so-called "Kariba Draft" has not been made public.

Madhuku said the NCA would hold demonstrations and was strengthening its grassroots campaigns to reject the document.

Zimbabwe’s Speaker of Parliament on Sunday announced that the unity government, in which MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai is prime minister, had assembled a 25-member parliamentary committee to lead the constitutional writing process.

The process would include consultations around the country, and the new constitution would have to be approved by a national referendum to be held by mid-July next year.

But Madhuku said members of the committee were loyalists who would take instructions from the executive and that the NCA was disappointed with its MDC allies in government.

"If you look at the people who are in the 25-member committee, these are loyalists of the various political leaders. The main lead singers are in that committee," he said.

"In 1999 we opposed a process, which in many respects was not as defective as the current one. We made it clear then that no government must superintend a constitutional making process. That remains our position today."