Zimbabwe has begun the process of writing a new Constitution, opening a new battlefield between the unity government’s rival partners.
The first public meeting to canvass public opinion on the new Constitution ran smoothly at a Harare convention centre on Wednesday, but the months ahead will prove much rougher.
The coalition partners appear to be drifting farther apart and drawing up a new Constitution is set to pit reformists against elements within President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF, still resistant to change.
The country expects to have a new Constitution by July next year, when a referendum intended to lead to fresh elections will be held.
But with temperatures boiling over, it is unlikely it will be that easy.
An early sign of the bitter fight that lies ahead came on Wednesday when state media, which remains fiercely loyal to Zanu-PF, endorsed a draft — drawn up by both parties — which does not have limits on presidential terms and leaves the president’s powers largely intact.
Although it helped draw up that draft, the top executive of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said this week that it now wants broader public consultation, leading to a new draft Constitution, which would see more reforms.
Senior MDC leaders and activists say the published draft falls far short of the reforms needed to check presidential powers and allow more freedoms, such as in the media. “We also need to see more change in the way we run elections,” an MDC official said. “That is at the core of our troubles.”
On Wednesday the MDC’s national executive said: “The MDC believes in a truly people-driven Constitution-making process where the unfettered will of the people must be reflected.”
But the state daily, The Herald, said proposed meetings to collect public opinion would “exert undue pressure on the fiscus”. There are “many more pressing priorities crying out for funding”, the paper said.
Even as the early bickering emerged, senior officials were already canvassing foreign governments for support for the process. Parliament speaker Lovemore Moyo, who is from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s party, met foreign diplomats to seek their backing and funding for the process.
“The Constitution-making process is taking place in an environment of acute resource constraints. We call upon you, your excellencies, to lend your support to this process. We are happy with the progress made so far, despite limited resources,” Moyo told diplomats, many of whom remain sceptical of the unity government.
A 25-member committee drawn from both parties will lead the procedure of writing a new Constitution.
The process opens up new battle-grounds in an escalating fight between the two main partners for control of the unity government.
Tsvangirai returns to Zimbabwe this week to face coalition partners furious over his three-week tour of Western capitals. Not only did the tour yield only token financial aid for Zimbabwe, it has also further isolated Tsvangirai from his rivals, who say he used the trip to prop up his international credentials while doing little to end sanctions against members of Mugabe’s party. Zanu-PF ministers were also barred from key meetings in Washington and Europe, worsening the tensions.
Zanu-PF is furious that only a fraction of the US$180-million in aid won by Tsvangirai will be channelled directly to Zimbabwe’s treasury, which Mugabe’s party still controls.
“The prime minister’s trip was not a government trip, but an ego trip,” Jonathan Moyo, a former information minister and independent MP, said.
Such is the bitterness over the tour that Tsvangirai published 40 000 copies of a newsletter on his trip, which his advisers hope will counter the hostile coverage of the trip from dominant state media. George Charamba, Mugabe’s press secretary, said the information ministry was investigating the legality of the newsletter.
Despite the unity government, Zanu-PF maintains a hold on media and has ignored a high court order allowing journalists to operate without accreditation from a Mugabe-allied commission.
Tsvangirai also returns to find frustration growing within his party. His party’s top executive said this week it would again approach the SADC to seek a resolution to a range of issues still outstanding from the unity agreement. Tapuwa Mashakada, the MDC’s acting secretary general, told the Mail & Guardian his party would protest to the region about “Zanu-PF’s fresh crackdown on MDC members”. He expects the SADC to hold a summit soon to discuss the matter.
Five of the party’s MPs are facing “trumped-up charges” designed to intimidate the party, Mashakada said.