Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Zimbabwe: New constitution - who speaks for the people?

By Stanley Kwenda - IPS
Republished permission Inter Press Service (IPS ) copyright Inter Press Service (IPS)
www.ipsnewsasia.net and www.ipsnews.net

"Are you still unemployed? Take charge and complete the change. We the people shall write our own constitution," read the many bright posters now adorning street walls, lampposts and rubbish bins in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare.

The messages are part of a campaign launched by the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) to oppose the constitution-making process proposed by the coalition government.

Zimbabwe currently operates under the 1979 Lancaster House Constitution inherited from the British-backed colonial government at independence. It has been amended 19 times since 1980.

A new constitution was a key demand of the MDC on joining the unity government with Zanu-PF and President Robert Mugabe whom critics have accused of using the constitution to retain power. Article 6 of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) between the two parties spells out that a parliamentary select committee of legislators and representatives of civil society would be entrusted with crafting a new constitution.

But civil society has objected to a process led by politicians and are demanding that an independent commission take charge.

"The reason why we are saying we are rejecting that process is because it is now heavy with the influence of parliamentarians. This means that Parliament has closed its doors on very effective participation of the citizens and the process is going to produce a predictable outcome," Lovemore Madhuku the NCA chairperson told IPS.

"We say no to a defective constitution born out of a defective process. We will repeat what happened in 1999. We are campaigning for a no vote."

The NCA brings together civic groups, women’s organisations, churches, opposition political parties, labour and student movements. In 1999 it worked with the MDC to reject a government draft constitution in a referendum handing President Mugabe his only defeat at the ballot box.

"The whole process has to be transparent enough. It has to be opened to all members of the society. We have our own specific needs as labour and we will need those to be included and that can only happen if we are part of the process," Lovemore Matombo, president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions told IPS."

The NCA has also rejected the plan to use a draft constitution agreed upon by the two MDC parties and Zanu-PF in power-sharing negotiations in September 2007 as a starting point for consultations. Negotiated in the resort town of Kariba in northern Zimbabwe the "Kariba Draft" has yet to be made public.

"They cannot try and impose a document of their own compromise on the people of Zimbabwe. We will soon launch street demonstrations to reject the whole process," Madhuku told IPS.

Civil society groups’ outrage comes shortly after Speaker of Parliament, Lovemore Moyo, announced the setting up of a 25-member parliamentary committee to lead the constitution-writing process. According to Moyo consultations will be held throughout the country culminating in a national referendum in July next year. Civil society is however adamant that the "social conditions" in Zimbabwe are not conducive to an "inclusive" process.

"Repressive laws which makes it impossible for people to meet and discuss freely issues of national importance are still there making it difficult to engage on a people-centred constitution-making process," remarked Fambai Ngirande of the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO). "A properly people-driven process would include an independent commission of a broad spectrum of the Zimbabwean society including those in the diaspora."

The government has defended its stance by drawing parallels with South Africa’s constitution-making process where parliament acted as a constituent assembly. "Who has the monopoly to say I represent the people when the same people you say do not represent the people were elected by the very same people," Eric Matinenga, Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs Minister told IPS.

But Madhuku refuses to budge. "Politicians cannot play referee in their own game because this is a crucial issue which should govern even the way politicians do their work and for them to be at the centre of crafting the rules that becomes dangerous."

Harare-based political analyst John Makumbe told IPS that "The process is not written in stone. Civil society groups can lobby the politicians to amend the political agreement’s article six to include everyone in the process. Once that happens then the process would be people-driven," he said.

The absence of a democratic constitution is seen by many as the cause of Zimbabwe's political paralysis. The current constitution has no presidential term limits. Although the government is forging ahead despite civil society protests, it still has a huge hurdle to climb.

The process will require funding and the government is broke and struggling to pay civil servants. It has appealed to international donor agencies to fund the drafting of its first post-independence constitution that will lead to new elections as outlined in the unity deal signed last September.
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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