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Presidential Powers Reduced Under Zimbabwe's New Charter

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe (R) and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai announce the resolution of longstading disputes over a draft constitution at a press conference in Harare, January 17, 2013.
When Zimbabwe's main political parties, Zanu-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), announced last week they had finally reached agreement on a new constitution, they did not reveal what caused the long delay. It took the parties six months to finalize the draft that a parliamentary committee submitted to parliament.

MDC politician Priscilla Misihairabwi said the process "wasn't easy."

"The time we took was indicative that it was quite difficult," Misihairabwi said. "At some stage, there was a realization by all political parties that not reaching a compromise meant we would again have to go back and be treated like children at SADC and AU.”

SADC (Southern African Development Community) and AU (African Union) refers to Africa’s regional leaders who, in 2009, forced President Robert Mugabe of Zanu-PF and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC to form a power-sharing government following violent, disputed elections. The leaders said the Zimbabwe coalition would only end with elections on a new constitution. It is the contents of that new constitution that the country's main political parties have been debating for half a year.

In interviews with VOA, officials said certain issues were especially tough. They included reducing powers of the president, increasing powers of parliament and decentralizing authority to regions.

Mugabe’s Zanu-PF opposed many of the reforms. Party spokesperson Rugare Gumbo said there was nothing wrong with his party being opposed to the contents of the draft.

“It is a question of give and take," said Gumbo. "I know some people will say ' Zanu-PF you said you will not move an inch on certain things.' No. It is nonsense.”

Zanu-PF had indicated that it wanted a president who is more powerful than parliament. In the new constitution, Zimbabwe’s president now can only dissolve parliament if the House refuses to pass a budget. That is not all Zanu-PF lost in the negotiations. Regions have been granted some autonomy, a move that Zanu-PF strong opposed, said Gumbo.

“We were keen to avoid the issue of devolution, we thought it was not the right term for what ought to be done.”

But that has all been settled for now. And the cash-strapped Zimbabwe government is now putting funds together to send the draft constitution to the voters in a referendum around April, which will pave the way for national elections later this year.

However some civic organizations and Zimbabweans have indicated that they will oppose the draft, saying it only reflects the views of Mugabe and Tsvangirai’s parties.

Among those opposed is Simba Makoni, who was active in the last national elections.

"They [coalition government] should not expect the people to accept a product that is designed to safeguard and entrench the interests of a small clique at the expense of the will and rights of the whole nation," Makoni said. "We condemn, in the strongest terms, that national resources were expended in an exercise aimed primarily at allaying the fears and concerns, and advancing the aspirations of, the GPA political parties."

GPA refers to an agreement that Mugabe and Tsvangirai signed before forming Zimbabwe’s current four-year-old coalition government.

The coalition government’s term will finally end when a new constitution is in place.