Thursday, 30 August 2012

Not that it matters, but I disagree on COPAC, Mr. Prime Minister

By Takura Zhangazha. *

On Tuesday, 29 August 2012, the Zimbabwean Prime Minister held his monthly press conference. In his statement, the PM touched on a number of issues related to political developments in the country. His pronouncements were given, perhaps as they should be, with an aura of finality. This was particularly apparent when he addressed the contentious matter of our current constitution making process. To quote the PM directly, he informed the media and in the process, the nation that,

 ' Article 6 of the GPA is clear that the Constitution-making process should be driven by Parliament. Some of us have no wish to revise that position and in any case, the Principals cannot renegotiate a document agreed by those with our delegated authority. We cannot negotiate in perpetuity. This Constitution is a product of years of hard work which included sourcing the views of the people and negotiations between the political parties. So we say no to any attempts to dedicate more time in a process where the country has already committed huge resources and time. It is time the people made a decision through a referendum and political parties should refrain from pretending to speak on behalf of the people when the people reserve the right to speak for themselves in a referendum.

Such words from the PM appear somewhat persuasive, or even 'principled' to say the least, but in effect, the PM is not being as honest as one would expect. By saying this, I am aware that some of my own colleagues may get 'angry' on behalf of the PM at my 'daring' to question such a statement for various reasons. Top of the list of such  reasons would be that there is a general understanding (arguably so) that  most colleagues in  civil society  do not query or challenge positions that are made with an air of finality by leaders in the inclusive government. From my own personal vantage point as a Zimbabwean citizen, I will however depart from what has come to be viewed as the 'norm' of towing a political party line and state that on the important issue of the constitution,   I respectfully disagree with the PM Tsvangirayi (not that it may matter to him or his office).

My disagreement is premised on a number of factors but for brevity I will focus only on three of them. The first being that the PM is not being politically honest where he seeks to claim finality with the phrase, 'we cannot negotiate in perpetuity' on the constitution when in fact, the entirety of COPAC has been perpetual political party negotiation and sadly will be concluded in the same manner. Similarly the reference that is made about 'refraining' political parties from speaking on behalf of the people is ironic.

The inclusive government has been exactly just that, and it is unfortunate that after the COPAC process has come to a full undemocratic circle, the PM wishes us to bestow him with the credit of taking an undemocratically (with or without Zanu Pf amendments) arrived  at document to the people. In any event, even if the PM's arguments were based on the need to save resources, a cost-benefit analysis of COPAC logically leads to the fact that what has been spent and is still intended to be spent far outweighs the real output.

The second reason why I disagree with the PM's recent statement on the constitution is that while he insists on going to the people for a verdict, the end product of such brinksmanship is obviously a popularity contest between Zanu Pf and the MDC-T. To explain further, this would mean what the country would be faced with is not a vote on a constitution, but a preamble to a Presidential election based on President Mugabe and PM Tsvangirai's opinion on the same document. Not that it would be a bad thing in itself, but it would be an extremely deceptive and unfortunate pretense at 'democracy' by seeking  evidently partisan means to establish a people's charter.

The PM also states rather controversially that, " A new Constitution is central to elections and to the reform agenda in Zimbabwe and if this process is collapsed, it will spell doom to the prospects for a credible, free and fair election". The truth of the matter is that Parliament recently passed the Electoral Ammendment Bill and a number of other Bills which have been part of and approved as the inclusive government's  'reform agenda'.  Perhaps the constitution would be the sum total of these Bills, but to argue that the COPAC draft (in whatever form) is the only route to elections, is unfortunately to ignore the very matters that have given credence to the 'incremental change' arguments of both the MDCs and components of civil society.

The third and final reason why I hold a different opinion from the PM is that I am certain that given the usage of a huge amount of resources for COPAC and the involvement of SADC, negotiations will be the PM's only option (not that it will make the process or the draft anymore democratic). There is no real reason why the three political parties, who have been in the inclusive government for over three years will not be made to agree on another version of the draft by SADC or even after the extensive Monday meetings of the political principals. So perhaps the PM's statement is one that is intended to call Zanu PF's bluff and drive some sort of hard bargain or at least appear to be doing so. But it will potentially all come full circle, back to another negotiation and the re-representation of an undemocratically arrived at constitution to the people of Zimbabwe.

Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (