A rare opportunity for Zim

JOHANNESBURG - Almost everyone in Zimbabwe agrees the draft constitution that is the subject of yesterday’s  referendum is seriously flawed.

But it is the compromise the country’s ruling coalition managed to come up with on the understanding that changes will be made once real progress has been achieved on the political front.

To ensure that it served its immediate needs, the parties to the global political agreement that resulted in the governing coalition — President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC and the Movement for Democratic Change of Welshman Ncube — agreed on a draft that was initiated largely by themselves.

They were so keen to ensure their narrow interests were served that they did not involve other political parties or civil society in any meaningful way.

The process has given new meaning to the word “exclusive”. Had they bothered to research how other countries have reformed their constitutions, they would have discovered that, in Kenya, the process was driven by Parliament but included all parties, and civil society and ordinary citizens had an opportunity to make presentations in a process hailed as a landmark for Africa.

By contrast, the Zimbabwean draft constitution entrenches the already immense powers of the presidency, meaning that Mugabe will be even stronger and more powerful after the referendum than he is now — if that is practically possible given his 30-year iron grip on power.

The draft also limits dual nationality, clearly to prevent would-be Mugabe opponents from enjoying the security of being citizens of another country while being able to return home to vote against Zanu PF.

Everyone in the coalition says they will repeal large chunks of the constitution should they win the elections that are due to be held in July.

That is not ideal, but it was never going to be possible to please everyone.

And, as a considerable improvement on the old order, it is a step in the right direction for Zimbabwe and the region.

If the terms of the draft constitution are adopted and adhered to, Zimbabwe will — on paper at least — become a place where elections can be held without intimidation and where Zimbabweans can emerge from a decade of stagnation and misery to reap their beautiful country’s true potential.

It would appear a given that the draft constitution will be supported by most Zimbabweans who vote in the referendum. After all, the three major parties are in agreement that it should be a “Yes” vote.

There have been mutterings about the likelihood of a free and fair vote, including concern over reports that nearly double the number of ballot papers have been printed than there are registered voters, and that the voter’s roll still contains many dead people.

And, of course, Mugabe has insisted that the only foreign observers allowed to monitor the poll will be those from the Southern African Development Community.

These are bad signs even if there is genuine majority support for the new constitution. The credibility of the process is everything — the best constitution in the world can be undermined by perceptions that it came into being through fraudulent means.

The referendum is an essential precursor to elections, and the way in which the process is handled will signal how well prepared Zimbabwe is to hold those elections.

One would expect that any hitches arising at this referendum would be tackled before the election.

Whatever Harare says, the referendum will also affect Zimbabwe’s relations with the international lenders and donors in the West, who Mugabe so despises.

The European Union and the US in particular have signalled a willingness to engage more with Zimbabwe and help it to get back on track economically, including reassessing the sanctions situation, but there will have to be give as well as take. — bdlive.co.za

*Please note that this editorial was published in the Business Day on Friday, a day before Zimbabweans voted in a referendum.

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