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

Photogallery US Storm Falls Short of Severe Predictions, Yet Affects Millions

NYC mayor says, 'This is nothing like we feared it would be,' yet blizzard warnings, travel bans remain for several East Coast states More

Millions of Displaced Nigerians Struggle with Daily Existence

Government acknowledges over a million people were displaced in 2014 due to fight against Boko Haram insurgency More

Facebook: Internal Error to Blame for Outages

Temporary outage appeared to spill over and temporarily slow or block traffic to other major Internet sites 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.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid