Can't Say No?

The constitution making process has revealed the utter contempt with which Zimbabwe’s politicians treat the electorate, from Operation Chimumumu of the outreach programme, to insulting our intelligence by constantly claiming that the document they have presented as the proposed new constitution reflects the people views, rather than being the result of inter-party negotiation, and then allowing insufficient time for most people to consider the substance of the draft.   Should, however, one reject the draft simply to punish the politicians for this arrogance and to demonstrate that the electorate refuses to be treated so shoddily? On the other hand, if, regardless of the process which produced it, a brilliant document has been prepared is one not being churlish and shooting one’s self in the foot by rejecting the draft? Hardly. Even the proponents of a “yes” vote concede that the document is a poor thing (but their own), the best they could do under the circumstances. It is, we are told, nonetheless “incremental progress” and we should thus vote “yes”.   We have heard this argument before. We were told that the Constitutional Commission’s draft of 2000 was progress and we should thus vote “yes”. But the people voted “no” because the draft did not achieve that which they had set as their objective, to reduce the vast powers of the President.   We were also told to support the GPA because, although the accord left Mugabe’s vast powers intact, it was the best that could be obtained under the circumstances, was incremental progress and was the means by which the integrity of the electoral process could be restored. A new constitution was presented as one of the instruments by which this would be accomplished.   This being the stated intention behind the constitution making process, the draft should be rejected on this ground alone. Its provisions will do nothing to restore the integrity of the electoral process. Certainly it contains hopeful clauses stipulating that elections “must be peaceful, free and fair, free from violence and other electoral malpractices” and that “neither the security services nor any of their members may, in the exercise of their functions act in a partisan manner; further the interests of any political party or cause; prejudice the lawful interests of any political party or cause; or violate the fundamental rights and freedoms of any person.” But the constitution very deliberately fails to include any remedy or steps that can be taken if there is no compliance with these provisions. They are thus little more than pretty window dressing designed to allow politicians to tell the naïve that the draft is not all bad.   If the new constitution was to address the issue of electoral integrity, then this was the moment to attend to institutional reform, particularly the partisan nature of the criminal justice process and security sector which has played a key role in subverting democratic choice in the past. The MDC politicians proudly tell those who have felt or fear the double whammy of the combined operations of the Commissioner-General of Police and Attorney-General, that this problem has now been addressed. The Attorney-General will no longer be in charge of prosecutions. This will now be done by a Prosecutor-General. They fail to mention that the draft specifically provides that the current Attorney-General, Johannes Tomana, will be the new Prosecutor-General, that the President has the ultimate power to determine his successor in any event and that Chihuri will remain in his post. Hence, rather than addressing partisanship in the application of the criminal justice system, the draft is carefully drawn to ensure that it continues. Similar criticism can be directed at the problem of security sector governance. To make the point, one need only take note of one of many adverse provisions: while in democracies the operations of the intelligence services are governed and regulated by statute, the draft again specifically includes a clause to ensure that this does not happen and allows the intelligence services to remain the unregulated plaything of the President and to be used for party political purposes.   The “yes” proponents either obfuscate these issues or ask us to focus on the “incremental gains” reflected in the draft. The incremental gains appear predominantly in the unquestionably greatly improved Declaration of Rights. Its provisions are better for women. Gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender and inter-sex rights are also given strong support, albeit not by name. There is improved freedom of expression in the media, etc.   These “incremental gains” in the Declaration of Rights do nothing to encourage a “yes” vote. They require an uncompromised and uncompromising judiciary and legislative reform to be realised. Contrary to the basic principle of the separation of powers, the draft ensures that the head of the executive retains control over both the judiciary and the legislature. Although there is an improved system of advertising for positions and the public interview of candidates for judicial office, if the President does not like the nominees that emerge from the process, he can by-pass this process and select candidates he finds more amenable. Similarly, the draft retains the President’s power over the legislature. Egregiously, under the present constitution the legislature consists of Parliament and the President who has the power to veto legislation. This is retained under the draft. Certainly, a two-thirds majority in Parliament can override the Presidential veto. But this is highly unlikely to happen in practice. The President is elected at the same time as the Members of Parliament. It is thus improbable that Parliament will comprise enough members opposed to the President, or of a different party, to counter his or her veto.   The “yes” and “incremental gain” proponents also disingenuously claim that once they win the elections they will amend the constitution to attend to these problems. But any constitutional amendment will require a two-thirds majority in favour in both Houses of Parliament. The current political configuration suggests that neither party is likely to be able to muster this majority. Hence, once the draft is accepted, the constitution making chapter will be closed and we will be stuck with a document that none regard as satisfactory for the foreseeable future. Politicians from the winning party, which ever that may be, are likely to be comfortable with the overweening powers of the President, even if the electorate is not. A “no” vote will keep the constitution making process alive, which might then continue under more favourable conditions, with a different balance of political power, at a later date. The GPA only requires that there be a referendum on the constitution before the elections – not that a new constitution be in place by then. So why the rush to bring the constitution making process to an end?   The rush is because the draft constitution provides a convenient fig leaf for SADC’s ineffectiveness and anaemic responses in the face of ZANU PF’s refusal to affect the reforms necessary for a credible election. None of the essential reforms necessary for the integrity of the electoral process have been implemented during the course of the GNU.  It also provides a convenient escape route for SADC, facing yet another flawed election in Zimbabwe. SADC has already started preparing the claim that although “not all” the reforms provided for by the GPA were implemented at least the election was conducted under a new constitution – an approach which delights ZANU PF. From there will follow the non-sequitur, (based on the off key refrain that a new constitution will protect the integrity of the electoral process) that the vote substantially reflects the will of the people and the poll is thus acceptable. A “no” vote will strip away this fig leaf and close this escape route for SADC. The narrow democratic space in which the elections will undoubtedly be conducted will thus be there for all to see.   The advantages of a “no” vote are thus readily apparent. It requires one to peer very closely at the draft through thick rose tinted glasses to discern any advantages accruing from a “yes” vote.   Derek Matyszak 05.03.13    

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