Embracing the people’s will, enhancing democracy

The Sunday Mail

AFTER a bloody war in which thousands of sons and daughters of the motherland laid down their lives in the struggle for independence from the British colonial yoke, sovereignty was finally attained on 18 April 1980.

This new Zimbabwe was birthed out of a Lancaster House Agreement negotiated by nationalists under the Patriotic Front (both Zanu and Zapu), Rhodesians and the British government.

This young Zimbabwe came with the independence constitution, also referred to as the Lancaster House Constitution.

An attempt to adopt a new constitution was crushed by a NO vote in the 2000 referendum.

Resultantly, Zimbabweans were stuck with the Lancaster House governance charter which was to be amended 19 times.

Then political developments in the aftermath of the 2008 plebiscite birthed a Government of National Unity (GNU) through the Global Political Agreement (GPA) signed by the late former President Robert Mugabe, late MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai and ex-MDC-N president Professor Arthur Mutambara.

The GNU, as the late former President Mugabe repeatedly said, was a compromise.

Indeed, a number of things were compromised for the good of Zimbabwe; and one important such thing was the 2013 Constitution.

Although the Constitutional Parliamentary Committee (Copac) held 4 821 public meetings, received 51 written submissions and 2 397 electronic submissions, some of the key clauses of the 2013 Constitution were certainly not gathered from the masses.

There are “elite clauses” in the governance charter; elite in the sense that some parts of the supreme law were negotiated by political elites, technical experts and advisors.

Without being prejudicial, what the masses did was just to vote YES on March 16 2013, to some aspects that they were not aware of.

The New Dispensation is now making great strides to scrap some of the clauses with high on the agenda being the deletion of Section 92.

This provides for the election of two Vice Presidents as running mates to the Presidential candidate.

This clause as it stands is supposed to take effect in the next elections in 2023.

The running mate concept is borrowed from a United States of America system dating back to the 19th century, in 1804, where a president and vice president were voted for on the same ballot. Both the Lancaster House Constitution and the 2013 Constitution provide that the President appoints his two deputies. This helps in managing any potential crisis which may arise from competition for power.

This proposed change will be part of an omnibus Constitutional Amendment Bill which will encompass a cocktail of constitutional and legislative reforms meant to enhance democracy, address gender parity issues and affirm individuals rights.

An inter-ministerial team led by Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi came up with a list of the proposed reforms.

These will be subjected to public scrutiny once gazetted as the Government seeks to add the masses’ voice and their will in the Constitution.

It is pertinent to incorporate the views and wishes of the people as the law is there to serve them.

Another important consideration raised is devolution of power.

The Constitution provides for Provincial Councils whose membership is expected to include Members of Parliament.

The new changes seek to block the legislators from doubling as part of the law-making body and Provincial Councils.

The MPs participation in Provincial Councils was not drawn from the public as this was born out of negotiated process before the adoption of the 2013 Constitution.

The embracing of the people’s views after the gazetting of the Constitutional Amendment Bill is testimony that the New Dispensation led by President Emmerson Mnangagwa is a “listening Government”.

Zimbabweans will have their veto power on other proposed changes such as the establishment of the Public Protector’s Office who will shield the public from abuse of power by State actors.

The proposed changes include the raising of the retiring age for senior judges from 70 to 75 years, enabling the President to appoint the Prosecutor-General, enacting the Office of the Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet.

These draft changes are part of key reforms being implemented by President Mnangagwa’s reformist Government with a heart for the issues that affect the people.

A proposed review of the women’s quota system to include more women in Parliament is testimony of commitment to address gender inequality in the public sphere.

Once the floor is open for public critique, maximum input is required to strengthen the Constitution and nourish the democratic space even for posterity as future generations will likely use this important document.