ZIMBABWE civil society’s argument for a “people-driven” constitution making process is weak and instead they should play the role of a watchdog to ensure that the procedure does not serve the interests of political parties in the inclusive government, political analysts have said.
The constitution-making process went into motion at the weekend with the selection of a 25-member parliamentary committee to steer the drafting of the country’s new supreme law in the next 18 months in terms of provisions of the global political agreement (GPA).
President Robert Mugabe and the leaders of the two MDC formations, Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, signed the GPA last September that led to the formation of an inclusive government on February 13.
The setting up of the committee saw the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) —— a grouping of civil organisations and political parties —— launching a campaign on Wednesday against the constitution-making process, arguing that it was “parliamentary-driven, not people-driven”.
The NCA said Zimbabweans should reject the process through demonstrations throughout the country.
But political analysts said despite denials from the NCA, the constitution-making process outlined in the GPA was people-driven.
According to the GPA, the constitutional committee will appoint sub-committees composed of lawmakers and representatives of civil society, but the committee will have a final say in the crafting of the draft constitution.
It states that the committee should convene an “all-stakeholders” conference within three months after its appointment.
The public consultation process, the pact reads, should be completed no later than four months after the stakeholders’ conference.
“The draft constitution shall be tabled within three months of completion of the public consultation process to a second all-stakeholders conference,” reads the GPA.
“The draft constitution and the accompanying report shall be tabled before parliament within one month of the second all-stakeholders conference.”
The draft and the accompanying report would then be debated and if necessary amended in parliament within one month, before it is gazetted and a referendum conducted within three months.
In the event that the draft is approved in the referendum, it shall be gazetted within a month of the date of the plebiscite and should be introduced in parliament not later than a month after the expiration of a period of 30 days from the date of the gazetting.
This process, the political analysts argued, would be people-driven, but the NCA, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and the Zimbabwe National Students Union have said it is defective and would lead to a faulty constitution.
NCA national chairperson Lovemore Madhuku said there was pretence in the GPA that the process would be people-driven.
“They want to pretend that it is people-driven and will work with the civic society at sub-committee level,” Madhuku said. “Clearly, that is what we can call parliament-driven process. Politicians must not decide for us the making of a new constitution.”
He said the committee announced by Speaker of the House of Assembly on Sunday, Lovemeore Moyo, was not independent.
“The people in the committee are loyalists. Not every member of parliament is credible and how can 25 members be chosen out of a parliament with more than 300 people?” Madhuku asked. “Some of them are also in the executive who will listen to the Kariba document which I like to call ‘the Biti and Chinamasa draft’. These guys are the ones who are pushing for this document.”
He added that the NCA would oppose the process under the theme “Take Charge”.
ZCTU president Lovemore Matombo recently denounced the process as flawed.
“It is merely an act of consolidation of power taking us back to the era of one-party states. Constitution-making processes are algebraic in nature. If you don’t get the formulae right, then you won’t get the answer right,” he said.
But University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure said even in history there was nothing like a people-driven constitutional process because someone had to spearhead it.
Masunungure said: “I don’t understand what a people-driven constitution is. Even if the NCA are to lead the constitution process, it would be a civil society-driven constitution and not a people’s constitution in some quarters.
“There is no constitution that is ever mass-driven, it is always the elite who have to lead. The critical issue will be the extent to which the elite will be able to work with the mass genuinely.”
He said even at the bottom class of the society it is always the elite who will lead.
“Even in a people-driven revolution there is always someone who will lead. The question that needs to be answered is who are the people, and the nearest you can come to the people’s voice is parliament unless you question the authenticity of the MPs,” Masunungure argued.
“The duty of the civil society now is to ensure that the process of the new constitution should not end in parliament. It should play the role of a watchdog to oversee that parliament goes back to the people who elected them. It should be an eagle eye on what these parliamentarians are doing.”
The professor said the GPA was clear that the constitutional committee should work with the people.
“It is very erroneous for any critic to say the process should be on any basis other than parliament. Let us not confuse people-driven with mob-driven,” Masunungure said. “The bottom line is that the process must be all inclusive and involve anyone who wants to be involved.”
He said the NCA’s chances to campaign positively for the rejection of the draft constitution at a referendum would be zero given that it would be fighting a process with the support of two of the country’s biggest political parties —— Zanu PF and the MDC-Tsvangirai.
British-based Zimbabwean lawyer Alex Magaisa supported the NCA stance and was adamant that a people-driven constitution must be created through “active involvement and participation” of the public.
He said for the constitutional committee to be representative it should have comprised people nominated by key stakeholders, among others, parliament, civic society organisations and the business community.
“People must not only be involved in making it, it must be seen that they are involved and they must feel that they are involved,” Magaisa argued.
“We know from experience that constitution-making cannot be left to politicians alone, especially politicians who are trying to accommodate each other within the structures of power.
There is a clear conflict of interest in that they already have the power and they have very little incentives to curtail that power. You need others who are not within the structures of power to balance the process.”
BY WONGAI ZHANGAZHA