Mugabe caught offside

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe’s plan for elections to proceed in March is in shambles, with signs that — once again — he will have to bow down to the Sadc poll timetable which has support from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and leader of the smaller MDC, Welshman Ncube.

Mugabe has been demanding that elections be held in March against the MDC’s demand for a June 2013 poll, a timetable the 88-year-old is likely to follow due to slow-paced reforms and delays in concluding a draft constitution seen as key to free and fair polls.

After being forced to abandon demands for elections in 2010, 2011 and 2012 due to coalition partners’ and Sadc insistence on reforms first, Mugabe is again set to whimper from his March poll demand, the Daily News can reveal.

Mugabe is in a coalition government with bitter political rivals Tsvangirai and Industry and Ncube who heads the smaller MDC formation.

Copac, the cross-party parliamentary committee tasked with coming up with a new constitution, has indicated a referendum will be held in the next three months at the very earliest.

This effectively means the country will vote in a referendum in February 2013 after which time will be needed to deal with provisions of the new constitution before holding an election.

Experts yesterday said it was impossible to hold elections in March.

Constitution law expert Derek Matyszak outlined to the Daily News the constitution writing process sequence.

“Following the conference (Second All Stakeholders) the draft must then be presented to Parliament within a month. Parliament must conclude its debate on the draft within one month. The draft constitution is then to be gazette and a referendum held within three months.

“Mugabe sets the date for the referendum. If the draft is approved in the referendum, it must then be gazetted within one month and introduced into Parliament for passage into law no earlier than 30 days after gazetting. There is no time limit set for the passage of the Constitutional Bill into law by Parliament. If approved by a two-thirds majority in Parliament, the president must sign the act into law within 21 days,” said Matyszak.

University of Zimbabwe constitutional law expert Lovemore Madhuku said “it does not need a rocket scientist” to see that the country will not have adopted a new charter by March next year.

“I do not see the process being completed by March because the process is behind schedule. Mugabe has made it clear that the country would go for elections without a new constitution,” said Madhuku.

Recently Mugabe told his supporters that the country will go for fresh polls in March next year with or without a new constitution. However, Tsvangirai and Ncube who are fellow principals in the “unity” government say Mugabe cannot make a unilateral decision over polls.

David Coltart, who is the Ncube-led MDC secretary for legal affairs, said Mugabe’s push for March elections is unworkable.

“We should be able to complete the process by March. And if the minister of Finance makes provisions in his budget for the referendum then we can have the referendum by March,” said Coltart.

“However the draft must be debated in Parliament, something that could take time. It is not feasible to have polls in March because what we will not allow is to have a rushed referendum. People need to read and understand the constitution and that is why there is a provision of three months in the Global Political Agreement (GPA),” said Coltart.

Coltart who is also the minister of Education Arts Sports and Culture said even if the constitution is adopted, it will take time to realign certain laws with the new charter.

“There are a variety of laws that need to be amended or scrapped altogether. We have to look at voter registration and delimitation of constituencies. One thing in the draft constitution is the issue of proportional representation.

“We have to decide on how that will be enacted and that will take time going beyond March so as to ensure that our electoral process complies with the constitution,” said Coltart.

While Mugabe is resolute on polls in March, guarantors of Zimbabwe’s power sharing agreement, Sadc, want polls in June after the expiry of the current political set-up and the implementation of reforms. Sadc has appointed South African President Jacob Zuma as its point man on the Zimbabwe issue.

Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, South Africa's minister of International Relations and Cooperation recently said Zimbabwe leaders including Mugabe have reaffirmed to Zuma that the coalition government had a June 2013 sunset clause.

Munyaradzi Paul Mangwana, the Copac co-chairperson representing Zanu PF, said it was early days to talk about a referendum because of a lot of sticking points in the current draft that need to be rectified.

“There are issues that still need to be resolved. Today (yesterday) we are going to give the Management Committee (principals’ representatives) those issues that we have not been resolved. These issues have to be resolved first and once that is done then we will say we now have a draft and only then can we start talking about the referendum,” said Mangwana.

Bickering among government partners has been stunting progress since the constitution making process started three and half years ago.

Contentious issues in the draft include executive powers, dual citizenship, and appointment of governors and devolution of power.

Mangwana, a lawyer by profession, said it was still possible to have elections by March but was not optimistic.

However, a look into the constitution writing procedure shows that the process is likely to go beyond March. - Ndakaziva Majaka and Fungi Kwaramba

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