News Analysis: Negotiated constitution exposes flaws in Zimbabwe

15:28, July 19, 2011      

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By Tichaona Chifamba

After spending millions of dollars in government and donor funds conducting more than 4,500 outreach meetings countrywide gathering people's views on a new constitution staying in hotels, paying rapporteurs, collating of information and drafting the new supreme law, indications are that the constitution-makers may finally come up with a negotiated document.

Even though the two major political parties did not immediately support the views of the leader of the smallest party in Zimbabwe' s coalition government that Zimbabwe would most likely see a negotiated settlement because the current process did not cover all the ground, they did not rule out the possibility and left the whole process to time.

During the outreach program, people made submissions that were largely dependent on what their political parties wanted to be included in the constitution rather than what individual contributors wanted.

For instance, President Robert Mugabe was more interested in the land reform program and its irreversibility while the MDC factions were more interested in electoral issues and the Bill of Rights.

Leader of the smaller MDC faction Welshman Ncube argued at the weekend that a negotiated settlement would be more ideal because the current process failed to capture some of the important issues that have to be enshrined in the proposed constitution meant to replace the current one crafted in Britain at the end of 1979 on the eve of Zimbabwe's independence in 1980.

Ncube is also the Minister of Industry and Commerce in the inclusive government.

"We have no choice but to negotiate the constitution to fill in the gap of areas that were not questioned during the outreach exercise," Monday's Herald newspaper quoted Ncube as having said.

His observation buttresses utterances by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai of the larger MDC faction, who in September last year intimated that the final outcome would be a negotiated settlement, alleging that the process which had been meant to be "people- driven" had failed in that respect amid allegations of violence and intimidation at some outreach centers.

"It has to be ultimately a negotiated settlement. But the process was to ensure that all Zimbabweans give views but unfortunately the politicians took a partisan position and hence violence ensued," Tsvangirai told his supporters at a rally in Harare.

Apart from dealing with the volatile outreach meetings, the inter-party Parliamentary Select Committee on the Constitution (COPAC) has had a torrid time spearheading the process, first in agreeing on the selection of rapporteurs from the polarized political parties and civic organizations involved, and secondly in dealing with monetary issues as it failed to plan without adequate resources.

Rapporteurs were also thrown out of hotels on several occasions because COPAC had failed to settle bills on time, including payment of the rapporteurs' allowances.

Following Ncube's utterances last week, chief negotiators from the other MDC and President Robert Mugabe's MDC, Elton Mangoma and Patrick Chinamasa, said it was still too early to consider a negotiated settlement, although they agreed that certain issues pertinent to the country's supreme law were absent from the people' s submissions during the outreach meetings.

Chinamasa told the Herald that he appreciated that there were "vacuum" areas where people did not make submissions.

Mangoma also acknowledged that there could be areas that needed to be filled in following the absence of submissions from the public: "People were asked a lot of things, which helped them to express their views.. There are other issues, which might not be determined in one way or another (and) people will have to sit down and see what to do."

The on-going constitution-making has met with mixed feelings from observers and other interested parties. While the major political parties were agreed that politicians should lead the process, albeit collecting views from the people, civic groups wanted "the people" to lead it.

Academic Donnan Gwashu said he doubted that the process can produce credible results, indicating that legislators should have just drafted a new constitution and submitted it to the people for approval, rather to seek views on parade.

An attempt to re-write the constitution in 2000 failed after a referendum on the proposals yielded an overwhelming "no" vote, with the opposition and some civic bodies saying that the proposed constitution gave the President overwhelming powers.

However, observers say that the rejected constitution and the one proposed at the time by civic groups under the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) banner should have been used as the basis for constructing a new one.

For the new constitution to become law, it has to get the approval of the people in a referendum. Already, some civic groups, including the NCA and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, have threatened to campaign for a "no" vote alleging that the process is not people driven.

Source: Xinhua
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