Vice presidents Constantino Chiwenga and Kembo Mohadi could have done themselves a disservice by not participating in Zanu PF primary polls held last week as their political careers are now solely at the mercy of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, analysts said yesterday.
Chiwenga and Mohadi did not participate in the just-ended primary elections held between April 29 and May 3 as is becoming the norm in Zanu PF where some of its vice presidents would rather pass the primary elections and still retain their positions once the party president has been voted into the top office.
This tradition, which is not supported by any constitutional provision, is a dignified way of shielding the vice presidents from the often dirty and ugly poll campaigns for National Assembly seats and the embarrassment that could come with losing the parliamentary race, while at the same time according them the status befitting of national leaders.
This was the case with the majority of the party’s previous vice presidents, among them Joshua Nkomo, Joseph Msika and Simon Muzenda, who all died in office.
Joice Mujuru, who was fired from Zanu PF and government in 2014, was among the few who, despite their lofty positions in the party, still participated in the primary polls.
Analysts said whereas in the past the office of the vice president was as secure as Fort Knox, the way Mujuru, Mnangagwa and former vice president Phelekezela Mphoko were stampeded out of their positions in 2014 and 2017, changed that perception. Because the vice presidents serve at the pleasure of the president, they can easily be fired should they be perceived to have become a liability to the appointing authority.
Political analyst Shakespeare Hamauswa said even if Mnangagwa has the powers to sack a vice president at his will, he cannot afford to do so with his deputies, considering the immense roles they played in his elevation to the position of president.
Chiwenga, who was the army boss, played a very crucial role last November in the removal of former president Robert Mugabe, after leading the army into the streets.
“Constitutionally, it is possible to sack the VPs (vice presidents) but from a political perspective it is difficult for ED (Mnangagwa). Chiwenga believes ED’s throne came as a gift from the military or KG6 (Josiah Magama Tongogara Barracks). With the militarisation of the party, it will not be possible to dismiss Chiwenga,” Hamauswa said.
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme concurred saying Chiwenga and the other generals appointed to Cabinet were the power behind the throne.
According to the Constitution, the president is the appointing authority of not more than two of his or her deputies.
Specifically, the national charter says “without delay the person elected as president in any election…must appoint not more than two vice presidents, who hold office at his or her pleasure”.
It is, however, not a constitutional requirement for those that serve in the ruling party as vice presidents and second secretaries to automatically assume the same positions in the Executive.
Constitutional law expert and University of Zimbabwe law lecturer Lovemore Madhuku said the situation would be slightly different in the 2023 elections, where presidential candidates choose their running mates.
He said this, however, depends with what the individual party constitutions say about the election of their leaders.
“The running mates are chosen by the presidential candidates. The party chooses its presidential candidate or his or her running mate depending on the party’s constitution,” he said.
With effect from 2023, a presidential candidate will choose a running mate/s to be his or her vice president/s.
The clause providing for vice presidents to be the president’s running mates in an election is in terms of Section 92 (2) of the Constitution, but the partners in the coalition government that brought about the Constitution agreed to put this clause on hold until 2023.
In terms of the provision, “Every candidate for election as president must nominate two persons to stand for election jointly with him or her as vice presidents and must designate one of those persons as his or her candidate for first vice president and the other as his or her candidate for second vice president.
“The president and the vice presidents are directly elected jointly by registered voters throughout Zimbabwe and the procedure for their election is as prescribed in the Electoral Law”.
A vice president who comes into office on condition of being the president’s running mate derives his or her mandate from the electorate and cannot be easily fired.
Harare lawyer Tonderai Bhatasara told the Daily News that in terms of the current Constitution, all vice presidents were serving at the president’s mercy, adding that Mnangagwa can even appoint a single vice president.
“Basically in terms of the Sixth Schedule part 4 paragraph 14, it means the president is not obliged to appoint two vice presidents. The president can lawfully appoint one vice president who serves at his or her pleasure. In this case (the case of Mnangagwa), the president can appoint one vice president and not more than two vice presidents,” Bhatasara said.
But some say investing too much power in one person comes with its own problems, as Mnangagwa and Mujuru were booted out within a single term.
The provision allows the president to give marching orders to a vice president whom he or she sees to be a threat to his or her power.
Writing on his blog, the Big Saturday Read, constitutional law expert Alex Magaisa said Mnangagwa as the president is the appointing authority of the two vice presidents.
“Although president Mnangagwa was not elected, this provision applies to him since his nomination by the ruling party resulted in him assuming the office of president.
“In any event, authority to make such appointments can be found in Section 342 (3) which provides that ‘A power, jurisdiction or right conferred by this Constitution may be exercised, and a duty imposed by this Constitution must be performed, whenever it is appropriate to do so’.
“It is arguable that the exercise of the power to appoint a vice president is appropriate in these circumstances. President Mnangagwa therefore has both a right and obligation to appoint a vice president/s,” Magaisa said.
In terms of the Constitution, a vice president has an important role, in the event of absence of a president or in a situation where a vacancy arises by reason of death, resignation or removal.