POLITICAL Actors Dialogue (Polad) members have made a dramatic U-turn by rejecting all proposed constitutional amendments that Government recently gazetted.
The 27 proposed constitutional amendments include the proposed removal of the Presidential running mate clause, increase in the number of non-parliamentary appointed Cabinet Ministers and extension of the women’s quota beyond the 2023 elections.
Polad consists of political parties that participated in the 2018 harmonised elections, minus the MDC Alliance which has chosen to stay away.
Its subcommittee on governance and legislative reforms held a two-day workshop that ended in Bulawayo yesterday to discuss proposed constitutional amendments.
In recorded interviews and during their deliberations on Thursday, the members who include Constitutional lawyer and National Constitutional Assembly president, Professor Lovemore Madhuku and MDC-T Bulawayo Proportional Representation MP Mrs Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga endorsed the changes.
The Polad members said in principle they agree that the Constitution should be amended with respect to identified clauses, although some areas need fine-tuning.
Among others Prof Madhuku said the Presidential running mate clause was dangerous as it could lead to the running mate plotting against a sitting President for political expediency while Mrs Misihairabwi-Mushonga said while the proposed constitutional amendments give the President the power to appoint seven unelected individuals into Cabinet instead of five as is the case now, they suggested that the number be increased to eight or more. Their endorsement is available in recorded interviews and their own discussions that can be accessed on the Chronicle website.
However, during a Press conference held at the end of the workshop in the city yesterday, the Professor Madhuku-led subcommittee on governance and legislative reforms made a U-turn and rejected in entirety the proposed constitutional amendments.
Prof Madhuku said they will be recommending to their plenary that includes President Mnangagwa among other leaders of political parties to have the proposed Constitutional Amendment Bill withdrawn.
“Now I can speak authoritatively on the positions that we have come up with in relation to constitutional amendments. We have totally rejected those amendments. So, it’s not correct to say Polad endorses the amendments. We totally rejected it and we have taken a two-stage approach to it. We are going to recommend to the full plenary that we are calling on the Government to withdraw the Bill from Parliament. We want them to withdraw it forthwith,” he said.
“This is what we are going to be recommending to our plenary. We are saying its premature for Government to publish a Constitutional Amendment Bill when the purpose of Polad is to have all the political actors discussing all constitutional challenges, our electoral challenges, political challenges ahead of 2023 and reach agreement on the reforms that we would wish to have undertaken.”
Prof Madhuku said after identifying the challenges, they will then map the way forward.
“So, our subcommittee in its wisdom did not find any logic in the Government rushing with the amendment because in all the amendments that are being proposed there is no amendment that has to be done today or tomorrow,” he said.
Prof Madhuku said they were pinning their hopes on Zanu-PF members who constitute their subcommittees to influence the ruling party that constitutional amendments should not be fast-tracked.
He said Polad members including those from Zanu-PF do not want to see retirement ages for judges being increased from 70 years to 75 years.
“We made a total rejection that even if Government will not take our withdrawal, we will fight the provisions relating to the judiciary. It’s a unanimous position which is even accepted by Zanu-PF that we want to retain the current provisions on judges, that judges should retire at 70 years mandatory. The Bill proposes that judges at the Supreme Court and Constitutional can go up to 75 years. We have said totally, all of us in the Polad subcommittee, that we don’t want that. People must continue to retire at the age of 70,” Prof Madhuku said.
The 2013 Constitution, through Section 92, has a 10-year transitional clause that provides for the joint election of the President and two running mates selected by the Presidential candidate.
In the event of a sitting President’s death, resignation or removal, the first Vice President, according to the current Constitution, will assume office until the expiry of the former President’s term.
However, the removal of the running mate clause will allow a President-elect to appoint his deputies.
The proposed Bill also makes the highly ambitious General Chiwenga, an unlikely automatic choice for vice president in the 2023 elections. If passed, Mnangagwa will have discretionary powers to appoint vice presidents of his choice.
According to political analysts, the whole plot is an attempt to weaken a determined Chiwenga, seen as eyeing the country’s most coveted job.
Political analysts say the removal of the clause from the Constitution would allow Mnangagwa tame the former military boss’s perceived presidential ambitions.
Zanu PF hawks linked to Mnangagwa also feel the scrapping of the clause will help prevent the creation of parallel centres of power. The faction also claims the concept is not in terms of international best practice.
To weaken Chiwenga’s base and presidential ambitions, Mnangagwa has also been seen on a drive to remove senior officials in both government and Zanu PF, who are considered to be close to Chiwenga, from positions of authority.
Last year, the President retired four army generals who were perceived to be closer to their former boss and appointed them to ambassadorial positions abroad where they are less likely to play any part in the subtle but bruising power battles obtaining.
The retired Major Generals and now ambassadors are; Martin Chedondo, Douglas Nyikayaramba, Anselem Sanyatwe and retired Air Vice-Marshal Shebba Shumbayaonda.