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Civil society to mobilise public to oppose constitutional amendments

ERC Director, Tawanda Chimhini.

CIVIL society organisations (CSOs) under the banner of Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC) have vowed to mobilise citizens to reject the proposed Constitutional Amendment Bill No 2, accusing the ruling Zanu PF party of railroading the legislature to amend the laws to settle its factional fights.

The position was taken during a CiZC coordinating committee that was attended by resident’s associations, youth representatives, women and girls groups, LGBT groups and several community based organisations operating in various provinces in Zimbabwe.  

The government initiated constitutional amendment relates to the appointments of Vice Presidents, the Prosecutor General, Public Protector, promotion of judges and the terms of office of judges among others.

The Bill also seeks to allow the President to increase the number of ministers to be appointed outside parliament from 5 to 7, introduce a youth quota that will see ten youth representatives drawn from political parties through proportional representation, extend the women’s quota by 10 more years and limit parliament’s powers in the adoption of international treaties.

The fear among democratic partners is that if adopted, the Bill will single handedly take the country back to the Lancaster House constitution that centralised power within the presidency and ensured that Zimbabwe remained a defacto one party state.   

Public Hearings on the Bill will be conducted at 21 venues dotted around the country from March 29 to April 4, 2020.

In justifying the position taken by members, CiZC Spokesperson Marvellous Kumalo indicated that government erred in introducing these amendments given the country’s economic challenges that has resulted in high unemployment rates, the collapse of industry, and poor service delivery. 

“As a coalition we are rejecting in totality these amendments for exactly what they are – a mockery to democracy and a recipe for disaster. 

“The common denominator around these amendments is centralisation of power and in our analysis we have even noted that was the same idea behind the previous constitution being amended at least 21 times. 

“These amendments are undesirable, they come at a time when the country’s economic situation requires attention from all stakeholders. 

“We do not see a necessity to amend the constitution and our message is clear: let us implement the current constitution, which has the confidence of at least 94 percent of Zimbabweans, learn first and pick lessons that can influence any amendments. 

“We reject the amendments because there is no evidence to support the proposal and if you look for example at the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission which government intends to replace with the Office of the Public Protector, you will realise that the new office will be manned by appointed personnel and in previous years when we had the Office of the Public Protector citizens did not get recourse on matters raised with the office. The ZHRC has done well in releasing reports that have exposed government, it is accountable to parliament while the Public Protector office will be answerable to the president. This is the reason why the office of the Ombudsman failed in the previous constitution,” said Khumalo

He warned that the amendment will be debated as a Bill not independently hence the need to educate citizens that the Bill is an omnibus bill that should be rejected in its entirety. 

“This is the idea by the drafters of the Bill to ensure that Zimbabweans are divided around the amendment. 

“It is important to note that at this stage there are no good apples in the Bill. We have to reject them in total,” he said. 

The Elections Resource Centre (ERC) Director Tawanda Chimhini explained that these amendments are all about entrenchment of power in the president which unfortunately has an effect of creating an unfair playing field for elections, and stressed that 20 out of 27 provisions in the Bill have direct implications on elections. 

In terms of de-linking delimitation of electoral boundaries from censuses, the ERC pointed out that there was really no need to touch the Constitution on this aspect as there was an option to address this through reviewing the Census Act and still achieve the same goal.  

He further pointed out that prosecutors and judges play a central role in elections hence there is need to build public confidence through allowing citizens to participate in their recruitment as provided for under the current constitution. The ERC also raised concern over the governments desire to mutilate the constitution before its full implementation noting that Zimbabwe is yet to align at least 50 percent of its laws to the new constitution. 

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