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

India PM Modi's Party Distances Itself From Religious Conversions

BJP under fire for being slow to rein in hardline affiliate groups allegedly trying to promote Hindu-dominant agenda by luring Muslims and Christians to convert More

Anti-Whaling Group Found in Contempt of Court

Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers in the waters off Antarctica continue their campaign to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt More

UN's Ban Urges End to Discrimination Against Ebola Workers

Ban was speaking in Guinea on the second day of a whistle-stop tour aimed at thanking healthcare workers of the countries at the heart of the epidemic 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.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid