Officials from Zimbabwe’s constitutional parliamentary committee have said a draft Constitution is ready, signalling that the drawn-out process might be nearing completion.
Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Eric Matinenga said this week “everything has been agreed on and it is safe for me to say the principals should expect the document any time from now”.
Zanu-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) have been at loggerheads over the document.
A copy of the draft Constitution leaked to the media on Tuesday night appears to strengthen the position of President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF, evidence of its success in fending off earlier moves by the MDC to push through sweeping changes.
The revised draft places no age limit on presidential candidates (a climb-down from the previous limit of 70 years), retains the posts of two vice-presidents and makes no provision for the devolution of power from the central government, a key issue in the three Matabeleland provinces. The terms of security chiefs are limited to two of five years each.
Dumiso Dabengwa, a former Zanu-PF politburo member and president of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union, said this week “a lot of compromises” had been made in the draft Constitution.
“We are watching closely to see what the compromises are, but, as a party, we will not pre-empt the draft Constitution and threaten to reject it. We want to see what is in it, first of all,” he said.
Despite the apparent concessions scored by Zanu-PF, its inner circle is divided over the worth of a new Constitution, which is sceptically viewed by party hawks as an attempt to clip Mugabe’s power. Hardliners maintain that the constitutional process must be abandoned and elections held under the current Lancaster House Constitution of 1980.
Jonathan Moyo, widely seen as the unofficial spokesperson of party hardliners, described the parliamentary committee as “a circus”.
He said it had merely cut and pasted parts of constitutions from other countries, and had been under pressure to release a draft.
“We actually won’t be surprised when the draft constitution mentions either Kenya or South Sudan, because that is where the constitutional parliamentary committee team has been drawing its material from. This is what you get from a flawed process,” Moyo told a press club meeting in Bulawayo recently.
Further underlining the divisions in the country, human rights and civic organisations are outraged over the passage of a Bill through Parliament last week that established the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, which can only investigate alleged human rights abuses since the formation of the unity government in February 2009.
It ignores other controversial events, such as the flawed 2002, 2005 and 2008 presidential elections and the accompanying violence, the Gukurahundi massacres in the 1980s in which an estimated 20 000 people were killed, as well as the mass demolitions of 2005 under Operation Murambatsvina (Operation Drive Out Dirt).
Although its anger has been directed mainly at Zanu-PF, which has the most to gain from the time limitation, the MDC has also come under fire for being complicit in a deal that ignores Zimbabwe’s history of human rights abuses.
Irene Petras, director of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, said: “The political parties in government must, with urgency and guided by the recommendations made by survivors of past human rights violations, establish an independent mechanism to deal with issues relating to past human rights violations and atrocities …
“The mandate of this independent mechanism must be to deal with all past human rights violations that have occurred in Zimbabwe, including the pre-independence era,” Petras said.
Meanwhile, there have been conflicting reports about the decade-long sanctions imposed by the European Union on Mugabe and Zanu-PF’s top brass. British media reported last week that the EU was considering suspending an embargo on the travelling and assets of the 88-year-old president to smooth the way for elections. But top EU official Michael Mann said the lifting of sanctions was “simply not up for discussion”.
EU ministers are set to meet in Brussels on July 24 to discuss its position on Zimbabwe sanctions.