Zimbabwe constitution draft a flawed compromise

July 23, 2012 11:47 am
Zimbabwe’s ruling leader Robert Mugabe/FILE

, HARARE, Jul 23 – Zimbabwe’s draft constitution would rein in presidential power but leaves the door open for 88-year-old Robert Mugabe to spend another decade in office, in what analysts derided as a flawed compromise.

The completion of the document, announced last week, is the first concrete step toward new elections since 2008 polls degenerated into bloodshed and forced Mugabe into a unity government with his rival Morgan Tsvangirai.

The draft, finalised on Friday, curtails presidential powers and imposes a two-term limit of 10 years.

The term limits would start with the adoption of the charter, so that Mugabe could spend another decade in office, even though he has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980.

But the draft would also strip the president of immunity from prosecution once he leaves office, a major concern for Mugabe who fears being hauled to court over human rights abuses.

The compromise has pleased few.

“The new constitution… should be a blueprint for the correction of all that has gone wrong with our country,” said Nevanji Madanhire, editor of the privately owned Standard newspaper.

“But the amount of compromise the latest draft shows means the country is ready to continue with the same.”

Despite long debate on allowing same-sex marriage and ending capital punishment, the draft defines marriage as between a man and a woman and maintains the death penalty — though not for women or anyone over age 70.

It provides for citizenship by birth, descent or registration but does not allow dual citizenship.

The draft also provides for compensation for white farmers who were forced off their land under Mugabe’s controversial land reforms and protects the property rights of the new farmers.

“We have had one president since 1980 and it is the feeling of most people that this has been the biggest weakness of the country,” said Eric Matinenga, a minister from Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change, who is responsible for constitutional affairs.

“The draft recognises that gone are the days when governance was entrusted in the hand of the ‘strong man’,” he told reporters Friday.

But Lovemore Madhuku, a legal expert at the University of Zimbabwe, said the draft leaves the president with too much power.

“It retains an executive president. That’s not what the people said during the outreach programme. In fact, the people don’t even know the meaning of some of the things that are in the constitution,” he told AFP.

“From us it’s a clear ‘No’ vote.”

The government-owned Sunday Mail newspaper, a mouthpiece for Mugabe’s party, said that even if the draft wins approval, the constitution “will most definitely be challenged and thrown away by future generations”.

The draft does help clarify Zimbabwe’s vague succession rules in the event that a president resigns, dies or becomes incapcitated.

Under the new regime, the first of the country’s two vice presidents would take over.

The new document, which has been worked on for three years, will be put to a public conference at the end of August and then to a referendum at a date yet to be announced.

The constitution-making was marred by violent disruptions, including the death of a Tsvangirai supporter during one of the public outreach meetings.

EU foreign ministers on Monday announced that if the referendum runs smoothly, the European Union would lift its travel ban and asset freeze on most of the Zimbabwe companies and individuals now under sanctions.

Mugabe and his closest allies would remain under the measures.


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