ZANU PF finally coaxed the opposition MDC into accepting constitutional amendments while making concessions that are too insignificant to dilute Preside
nt Robert Mugabe’s powers, sources said this week.
The parties this week embraced alterations to Constitutional Amendment (No 18) as a fundamental step towards ending the political impasse, build confidence and end the economic crisis in the country but did not spell out how this would be done.
The sources said Zanu PF agreed to the amendments after its supreme decision-making body, the politburo, was convinced that the concessions were inconsequential in the broad scheme of things because they would not affect President Mugabe’s grip on power and his bid for re-election next year.
It is also understood that Zanu PF supported the changes as a way of showing commitment to President Thabo Mbeki’s mediation efforts.
Zanu PF agreed to abolish appointed MPs in the lower house of parliament; to have the presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections held concurrently on one day, and to have the polls postponed from March to June next year, if necessary.
Zanu PF also gave ground in the debate on the bill of rights and the death penalty and amendments to repressive laws such as the Public Order and Security Act.
The MDC agreed to set aside its demand for a new constitution ahead of free and fair elections and instead settled for reforms to existing electoral laws.
Spokesperson for the MDC formation led by Morgan Tsvangirai, Nelson Chamisa, said his party’s acceptance of the amendment was a bold step to show commitment to a process that will result in a new constitution.
“It is a shift that is meant to unlock future processes in terms of arriving at a new dispensation,” Chamisa said. “The Mugabe regime has acceded to the idea that there was need for constitutional reform in order for there to be free and fair elections next year. As a result there has to be instruments and institutions necessary to achieve the resolution of the crisis.”
Government would make concessions on electoral laws, repressive security legislation, media regulations and the polarised political environment.
Secretary-general of the Arthur Mutambara formation of the MDC, Welshman Ncube, in his contribution to parliament on the amendments, said that the opposition took the decision well aware of the risks inherent in it.
“As President Tsvangirai said, there is no such thing as a risk-free political decision,” Ncube said. “Therefore when we take this decision, we are fully cognisant of the political risk inherent in it. But we take it with our eyes open in the hope of serving our people. We believe that we cannot continue to conduct politics for the sake of politics. We believe that we must begin to conduct our politics in the service of the people, otherwise it is meaningless.”
Political analysts and civic groups however raised concerns over how the agreement would be translated into action that would improve the political situation in the country.
“Anything that has to be agreed on has to be reflected by the situation on the ground,” Crisis Coalition coordinator, Jacob Mafume, said.
“We have had many paper transformations. We do not know whether this transformation is going to lead to the liberalisation of the media and depolitisation of food aid as has been the case over the years,” he said. “There should be a benchmark of changes on the ground for the agreement to make sense. The arrests and police brutality on activists and innocent people should stop.”
Mafume said the political environment should start to improve with the leaders openly discussing fundamental issues such as violence, intimidation and the role of traditional leaders.
Other civil organisation groups said there was need to embrace the spirit of Constitutionalism beyond partisan political interests as well as broad-based consultation during the crafting of any constitutional changes.