Zimbabwe's countdown to a new constitution

All main parties are urging voters to accept a new charter for the country, but critics remain vocal.

    Zimbabwe's countdown to a new constitution
    Zimbabwe's voters are preparing for Saturday's consitutional referendum [Gift Phiri/Al Jazeera]

    Harare, Zimbabwe - These are the final hours in the countdown to a crucial referendum on a proposed new constitution, a key milestone in this country's 2008 power sharing pact.

    As Zimbabwe hurtles towards Saturday's referendum, all ruling parties are in unison, rallying their supporters to vote "yes".

    The proposed constitution largely retains Zimbabwe's imperial presidential powers, but does devolve more power to local government, strengthens the role of parliament, expands civil liberties and elevates the status of women.

    Since the country gained independence from British colonial rule in 1980, Zimbabwe has been ruled by a "ceasefire document" negotiated at London's Lancaster House in 1979 to end an armed liberation struggle that ended white minority rule and ushered in black majority rule.

    The constitution, amended 19 times, has exacerbated divisions and steadily helped turn the country into one of the most corrupt countries in southern Africa.

    The 2012 Transparency International corruption perception index (CPI) ranked Zimbabwe 163 of 176 countries worldwide.

    On Saturday, that could change.

    Starting before dawn, Zimbabweans will vote on an entirely new constitution that seeks to address the defective political system that exploded after the disputed 2008 presidential election. The nation's corrupt and dysfunctional politics was deemed to be at the root of the crisis.

    President Robert Mugabe's Zanu PF and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC have unfurled nationwide campaigns imploring their supporters to seize this moment and usher in "a second republic".

    Zimbabweans were given only one month to study the draft, an issue unsuccessfully challenged by civic groups. The National Constitutional Assembly - a broad alliance of opposition parties, church groups, trade unions and civic organisations - are urging voters to sink the draft.

    But analysts predict these efforts are doomed to fail, and that the constitution will likely pass by a comfortable, though not overwhelming, margin. Many Zimbabweans vote along political lines, and all ruling parties are backing a yes vote.

    While elections in Zimbabwe tend to bring out the worst - elections over the past decade have been marked by a cycle of politically driven violence that has yet to stop - yet this election is somewhat different, with leaders of all parties exhorting their supporters to desist from violence. Many here hope that this will be the vote that ends that cycle for good.

    Perhaps most important, the two rivals of 2008 - Zimbabwe's leader for the past 33 years, Mugabe, and his political opponent, Tsvangirai - have never worked so closely in their lives.

    They have appeared shoulder to shoulder in recent days calling for a violence-free referendum and election thereafter.

    Amid the excitement, Gift Phiri spoke to ordinary Zimbabweans about how they would vote in the referendum.

    Voster Manga, pillow vendor

    "I am certainly going to vote yes because the constitution is good for me. Everything is right. I read a bit of it and I like what I read.

    "It's good that we are writing our own constitution and not continue using the British one.

    "So I am happy with it and I will vote yes."

    Esnath Rambanapasi, magazine and CD vendor

    "I am going to the polls on Saturday to vote yes. This constitution will give us jobs. Right now I am in the street selling instead of being formally employed. So this constitution is going to address that.

    "I hope the new constitution will give me a better life, and [a better life for] my children.

    "It will also give housing for all, and this is a good thing after [2005 slum clearance drive dubbed Operation:] Murambatsvina ['drive out filth'].

    "So yes, I am voting yes to a better life."

    Trymore Garikai, unemployed MDC activist

    "Look, this is best constitution ever. I am voting yes because I am tired of the Lancaster House constitution.

    "I am voting yes because there is devolution of power, and this is very, very important.

    "I also like the term limits for the president. We cannot continue to have one person ruling forever. Enough is enough.

    "I hope it will get rid of Aippa [The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act] and Posa [The Public Order and Security Act]. So this is a good thing that I fully support.

    "Besides, this constitution is a product of our leader Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, so I will support it on that basis."

    Beauty Deke, housewife (second from left)

    "I am voting on Saturday, and I am voting yes definitely. This is a very good constitution for women.

    "It gives women more seats in parliament, spares them the death penalty - basically it empowers women. So I will vote for it because of the provisions it has for women.

    "It gives us gender balance, which is nice. So it's a yes for me on Saturday."

    Charles Samburero, gospel musician

    "I just heard there is a referendum on Saturday, but I am not going to vote.

    "I won’t vote because I don't know what the draft constitution has in it. In fact, I am yet to see it.

    "I just heard the adverts on radio, but to be honest I haven’t read the draft constitution. So I can't vote for something I haven't seen."

    Tawanda Matariranwa, ice-cream vendor

    "I would have loved to vote but I will be working. Besides, I don't know what is happening.

    "I know the Lancaster House constitution; I have seen the old one, not this one."

    Lawrence Mashungu, Youth Agenda Trust programme officer

    "I am voting yes, because this constitution will usher in reforms that will produce a violence-free election. We want a free and fair election.

    "Of course, there are issues I am not happy about.

    "While it caters for women rights, there is nothing for the youth. The concerns of youths are not adequately addressed. There is nothing tangible for youths."

    Lovemore Madhuku, National Constitutional Assembly Chairman and lecturer

    "I am voting no, and so should everyone. This is not a people-driven constitution.

    "This is not a good constitution, it retains excessive presidential powers. No country can develop with so much power for a president. It allows the president to maintain the platform for patronage. The president has wings right across all arms of the state, the legislature and the judiciary.

    "Constitutional reforms are about changing that framework, but, in the draft constitution, the president is not compelled to appear before parliament and answer questions. He has no limit on the number of ministers he should appoint and he still has a lot of influence in appointing commissioners, ambassadors, security chiefs, the attorney-general and has the final say over appointment of judges.

    "This constitution is more less the same as the Lancaster House Constitution."

    Simba Makoni, opposition leader

    Simba Makoni is a former finance minister [EPA]

    "Copac [The constitution parliamentary committee] has not told Zimbabweans why they did not produce the best constitution, but wants citizens to accept something that the parties are saying they would amend once they were elected.

    "We have issues with discrimination in the death penalty, the gender balance in the election of legislators, as well as the variance in the appointment of the director general of the Central Intelligence Organisation in comparison to other heads of security arms of the state.

    "There is no reason why Zimbabweans should continue to pay for two vice-presidents - besides the fact that it is only meant to maintain peace and balance in some political formation that would disintegrate instantly if it were implemented.

    "We are embarrassed that, in the 21st century, one country makes a constitutional provision for another state without consultation. Section 72 of the draft provides for the former colonial power [Britain] to pay for the land we would have taken.

    "It makes us a laughing stock of the world."


    Follow Gift Phiri on Twitter: @giftphiri

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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