Speaker rejects secret ballot on CJ Bill

HARARE - Acting National Assembly Speaker Reuben Marumahoko yesterday blocked an opposition motion seeking to have voting on the proposed Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 1) Bill  taken by secret ballot, as pressure mounted to ditch the proposed  controversial amendment.

The proposed Bill — seeking to reinstate presidential powers to singularly appoint the Chief Justice (CJ) — underwent the committee stage yesterday in the National Assembly.

The Bill, first presented by Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa in the National Assembly in January, was roundly rejected by citizens during rigorous 11-day public hearings across the country in March.

The opposition MDC — which has a meagre one-third in Parliament — had said it will vote against the motion.

The MDC believes that bitter divisions in Zanu PF along factional lines may prompt some to reject the Bill if they vote secretly.

Already the factions have been fighting bitterly over the succession issues, with one group, the so-called Lacoste — supporting Mnangagwa and another group, the so-called G40 opposing him.

But Marumahoko refused to give the go-ahead for secret ballot.

The acting Speaker, a top Zanu PF official, said the rules do not allow for the secret ballot and the Zanu PF chief whip’s office has rejected calls for one.

However, MDC MPs led by their chief whip Innocent Gonese and Kuwadzana MP Nelson Chamisa  argued that allowing the amendments to sail through will be tantamount to subverting the will of Zimbabweans, who rejected the Bill during public hearings carried out by the

Ziyambi Ziyambi-led parliamentary portfolio committee on Justice.

The MPs complained that Zanu PF was abusing its commanding two-thirds majority in the National Assembly to subvert the will of Zimbabweans. Zanu PF has 161 MPs in the 210-seat National Assembly chamber.

“This is a Bill that seeks to usurp the will of the people but I don’t believe that their will can be amended because the effect of it will be to subtract their confidence in government...

“We are therefore requesting that there be a secret ballot because we have (Zanu PF) colleagues who want to vote with us but are afraid to say so openly,” Chamisa claimed.

But Marumahoko used his discretionary powers to block the motion after counting the opposition legislators and discovering that there were only 26.

“According to Standing Rules, I can use my discretion not to allow the house to be divided if I feel that it is not necessary to do so and those who are of a contrary opinion to yours will therefore have it,” Marumahoko said, adding secret ballot was only applicable when electing the Speaker.

Committee chairperson and former deputy Home Affairs minister Ziyambi argued that the Constitution itself has provisions for its own amendment.

“It is a lie to say that democracy entails not amending constitutions even if you realise there are loopholes because there

are provisions in the charter for its own amendment,” Ziyambi said.

He got support from independent Norton MP Temba Mliswa who argued that Mnangagwa as vice president had the people’s mandate to amend the Constitution.

“They do not have the numbers to change that and they should accept the fact that the beauty of democracy is that while the minority have their say, the majority will have their way, so I don’t see anything wrong with the amendment,” Mliswa said. 

The Bill will amend the Constitution by substituting Section 180, which provides for the appointment of three senior judges — omitting the Constitution’s existing provision for public interviews and recommendations from the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), and allowing Mugabe to disregard advice from the commission.

“The appointment procedure for all judges will remain as it is in the Constitution before amendment, except for the CJ, deputy CJ and the Judge President of the High Court,” the Bill’s memorandum reads.

“It is proposed by this amendment that these three offices will be appointed by the president after consultation with the JSC (under the previous Constitution the appointment of all judges was done in this way, except for the Judge President, who was appointed by the CJ).

“If the appointment of a CJ, deputy CJ or Judge President of the High Court is not consistent with any recommendation made by the JSC made during the course of the consultation, then the president will have to inform the Senate of that fact as soon as possible.”

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