By Moses Matenga/Richard Muponde
MDC-T senators were cajoled into voting with Zanu PF to pass controversial amendments to the constitution in the hope that the ruling party will return the favour by backing it in its battles with the mainstream MDC Alliance, it has emerged.
The Douglas Mwonzora-led party made a stunning somersault last week by backing the amendments that will see President Emmerson Mnangagwa single-handedly picking the chief justice, deputy chief justice and the judge president.
Mwonzora was one of the biggest critics of the proposed amendments that were first proposed five years ago, but appears to have changed his position after the fallout with the MDC Alliance led by Nelson Chamisa.
Only Morgen Komichi from the MDC-T voted against the amendments.
MDC-T senators told this publication that they were convinced by the party’s leadership to vote with Zanu PF because of promises that the ruling party will back them in their fight against the Chamisa group.
They claimed that the government was mulling further amendments to the constitution that will include suspending by-elections further and raising the age limit for presidential candidates from 40 to 50.
Zanu PF is pushing to raise the age limit for presidential candidates to specifically target Chamisa, who almost beat Mnangagwa in the disputed 2018 polls.
“This is not the only constitutional changes the party is going to support,” an MDC-T senator said.
The legislator, however, said the party’s leadership was not united in backing Zanu PF’s proposed constitutional amendments.
Komichi told The Standard yesterday that he was against changes to the constitution to benefit an individual.
“The national constitution needs to be protected from arbitrary amendments because it will do away with what the people actually voted for,” he said in an interview.
“The people of Zimbabwe voted for the current national constitution.
“It was the document they contributed to during Copac (Constitution Parliamentary Committee) times so for Parliament to then sit and make amendments without consulting them, it is unfair.”
“We don’t want to amend the constitution to suit certain individuals.
“The constitution must be there for the people.
“I only expressed my feeling and cannot condemn others for what they did. I respect their views.”
Komichi, however, said the MDC-T senators were not forced to vote for the amendments.
“I did not see the connivance in the voting,” he said.
“I did not see the connivance there, people voted independently.”
Mwonzora’s spokesperson Lloyd Damba also refuted allegations that MDC-T had struck a deal with Zanu PF on the constitutional amendments.
“Firstly, on the issue of coaching of MPs, I was not in Parliament to comment on that,” Damba said.
“Then on the Constitutional Amendment Bill, the writing of the constitution is a continuous process.
“Amendments are common the world over.
“That’s why you see the American constitution is amended to suit different times.
“So the writing of a constitution is inconclusive, but continuous.”
MDC-T chief whip Tichinani Mavetera said the party’s senators were not coached on how to vote last week.
“Whoever is bringing that has a sinister motive. “Not a single person was coached or told what to do,” Mavetera claimed.
“If there is any coaching, it has to come through me as I am the chief whip.
“When in Parliament, we allow our members to make independent decisions.
“We believe that the people we seconded to Parliament know the party policy and also what is good for the country.”
Mwonzora came under attack from civil society and the MDC Alliance for siding with Zanu PF in passing the amendments, which they say threaten the independence of the judiciary.
MDC Alliance vice-president Tendai Biti said the constitutional changes were illegal.
“The starting point is that the Bill is illegal,” Biti said.
“The sitting and reading of the Bill happened in the Robert Mugabe era. Section 147 of the constitution is clear that any motion lapses at the dissolution of Parliament.
“The 7th Parliament was dissolved on 28 May 2018 and the motion also lapsed.
“That’s unconstitutional and illegal; we will go to court about that. Zanu PF can’t unilaterally amend a negotiated constitution, which was voted for by three million people in a referendum.
“The challenge should be how to implement the constitution.”
He added: “On the MDC-T, let’s not waste our time on this issue. To start with [Thokozani] Khupe and Mwonzora are Zanu PF.
“They were given money by Zanu PF to destroy the MDC Alliance.
“It’s an unholy alliance between Zanu PF and MDC-T to destroy democracy.”
Political commentator Fidelis Duri said the constitutional amendments signalled the death of democracy in Zimbabwe.
“Worldwide there should be separation of powers between the executive, the judiciary and the legislature,” Duri said.
“This is done to enable checks and balance in the system of governance.
“When we hear that the executive is appointing people to the judiciary, then it means the judiciary is captured.”
The 2013 constitution received massive backing from Zimbabweans in a referendum after Zanu PF and the MDC agreed to work together.