News / Africa

Zimbabwe Draft Constitution Produces Heated Debate

Zimbabwe VP Joice Mujuru (R), Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai (C) and member of the House of Assembly of Zimbabwe for Kuwadzana Nelson Chamisa attends the presentation of the Final Draft of the Constitution in Harare, February 6, 2013.
Zimbabwe VP Joice Mujuru (R), Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai (C) and member of the House of Assembly of Zimbabwe for Kuwadzana Nelson Chamisa attends the presentation of the Final Draft of the Constitution in Harare, February 6, 2013.
Anita Powell
Debate is raging both inside and outside Zimbabwe about the country's proposed new constitution. 

The document’s framers say the draft contains several advances, but acknowledge it is the result of a political compromise. 

Opponents say they think the process was flawed and the new law still gives too much power to the already authoritarian president.  Zimbabweans on both sides of the issue met in Johannesburg to debate.

Mugabe at heart of debate

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe (R) and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai address a media conference at State House in Harare, January 17, 2013.Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe (R) and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai address a media conference at State House in Harare, January 17, 2013.
x
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe (R) and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai address a media conference at State House in Harare, January 17, 2013.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe (R) and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai address a media conference at State House in Harare, January 17, 2013.
Zimbabwe’s draft constitution is really a preview for the actual heavyweight bout: the general election that President Robert Mugabe wants to hold this year.

Mugabe, who turns 89 this month, is planning to run for office again.  He has led the nation since independence in 1980.  But before the election, Zimbabweans must approve a new constitution, as outlined under a power-sharing agreement made in the aftermath of the violent 2008 elections.

The nation is expected to vote on the draft in coming months.

Not a perfect document

Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, a minister and secretary-general of the Movement for Democratic Change party, says the document she helped write is not perfect.  But, she says, it is an improvement on the current constitution.

She says the draft gives women more rights and limits presidential powers.

She also says that while the process of writing the document was not perfect, it started something that cannot be stopped.

“That opening up, I don’t think you can reverse it.  It is a process which you can’t put a cost to it, you can’t put money to it.  But it was something that was crucial, that was important for the people of Zimbabwe to have," she said.

The draft introduces presidential term limits of two five-year terms.  However, the law is not retroactive, so President Mugabe - who is already the oldest serving head of government in the world - could serve another two terms before having to step down at the age of 99. 

Misihairabwi-Mushonga lauded that as one of the best provisions in the new constitution.

"The message that it sends to the people of Zimbabwe is that you are never going to have another situation where you are going to have another Mugabe," she said. "I think that was a big score in terms of the conversations that we had in this constitution."

The proposed charter also appears to limit the president’s powers somewhat, and brings the previously unmonitored Central Intelligence Organization under government oversight.

The draft does not change positions on same-sex marriage - still banned - and the death penalty, which is still allowed.  The capital punishment provisions have been somewhat relaxed, though, and now exempt women, the young and the elderly.

New York-based Human Rights Watch says the referendum plans do not mean the ruling ZANU-PF party will cease its repressive practices.  The party and its followers have been repeatedly and widely accused of intimidation, oppression, unfair arrests and violence.

HRW has urged the European Union to maintain targeted sanctions on Mr. Mugabe and his inner circle until the nation carries out real reforms.

There is a subtext to all of this debate: a constitution is only as strong as the government that upholds it.  And while Zimbabwean officials and activists say the constitution-writing process has raised hopes for greater democracy, all discussion seems to eventually return to one point: Mugabe.

Opponents voice objections

Constitutional opponent Lovemore Madhuku says this is one of his two reasons for voting against the draft.  The other, he says, is that the process was flawed and that average Zimbabweans should have had more say instead of accepting a document from on high. 

Madhuku, who leads the National Constitutional Assembly, a coalition of pro-democracy groups, has little confidence in the presidency.

"Our major problem in Zimbabwe has been the concentration of power in the president," he said. "If there’s any one reason why we thought that there should be constitutional reform in Zimbabwe, that reason would have been clearly that 'Look, we are giving too much power to one person, too much power to the president.'  But if you have a very powerful president who is not restrained by law, just restrained by their own good heart, the law would be simply allowing them to go on and on and so forth.  We create a problem for our country.  That problem has not been solved by the current constitutional draft."

But Misihairabwi-Mushonga urged the draft’s opponents to be realistic.  The writing of this constitution has been a long, labored and expensive process.  It was originally supposed to be ready in 2010.

"Because we had to negotiate, it can’t be a 100 percent document," she said. "But is it indeed so bad that you think that it has not moved us forward?”

That’s something Zimbabwe’s voters will have to decide.

You May Like

Ukraine Purges Interior Ministry Leadership With Pro-Russian Ties

Interior Minister Avakov says 91 people 'in positions of leadership' have been fired, including 8 generals found to have links to past pro-Moscow governments More

US Airlines Point to Additional Problems of any Ebola Travel Ban

Airline officials note that even under travel ban, they may not be able to determine where passenger set out from, as there are no direct flights from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone More

Nigerian President to Seek Another Term

Goodluck Jonathan has faced intense criticism for failing to stop Boko Haram militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid