Lawyers Fear Mugabe May Block New Constitution

07 July 2009

Robert Mugabe (file photo)
Robert Mugabe (file photo)
As plans to further define and adopt fundamental principles on Zimbabwe's new Constitution continues, some lawyers say they fear President Robert Mugabe will stop any new constitution which cuts his executive powers.

At issue is a draft constitution agreed to by ZANU-PF and the two formations of the Movement for Democratic Change in September 2007 and which is now known as the Kariba Draft.

Mr. Mugabe favors this draft because it would leave his over-arching powers intact, while the MDC risks losing a key constituency in civil society if it gives in to Mugabe's demands.

Prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai has said that while the Kariba draft was agreed to, he now is firmly committed to a constitutional process this time around in which all Zimbabweans have input.

But Mr. Mugabe told The Herald, a pro-ZANU-PF daily, that parliament would not adopt any constitution other than the Kariba draft, even if most Zimbabweans opt for something different. A two thirds majority in parliament will be needed to adopt a new constitution.

Constitutional lawyer Derek Matyszak says civil rights activists including the Zimbabwe Congress of Trades Unions share his fears that Mr. Mugabe will stop any new constitution which limits the powers of the presidency.

"Any constitution requires a two-thirds majority in parliament and the MDC doesn't have two-thirds, so for the constitution to be changed it needs ZANU-PF's support," he said. "What is likely to happen before it even reaches that stage, the MDC will say what kind of constitution can we put to the people in a referendum and ZANU- PF will agree [to it] when it gets to parliament. So it's likely to be a political compromise before it even gets to a referendum."

Matyszak, other lawyers and civil rights activists agree that the MDC has already made compromises on major issues since it was sworn into the unity government in February.

"I have yet to find a compromise the MDC doesn't find acceptable," he said. "They seem to be prepared to accept whatever ZANU-PF puts in front of them. This is what the civics fear, that the MDC will come up with a compromise which will leave Mugabe's powers pretty much as they are."

ZANU-PF holds its congress in December to elect officers. Most political analysts believe that Mr. Mugabe will remain on as president of the party and ensure that the ZANU-PF hierarchy will continue.

They say this means that any ZANU-PF reformers who believe a new constitution is above party political interests, will be over ruled by majority of ZANU-PF officers who depend on Mr. Mugabe for political survival.