‘Constitutional changes to dent 2023 poll credibility’

President Emmerson Mnangagwa


INDEPENDENT elections watchdog, the Election Resource Centre (ERC) has urged government to withdraw the Constitutional Amendment Bill No 2 from Parliament and refer it for further consultations to ensure the credibility of the 2023 general elections.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has proposed 27 amendments to the Constitution and the Constitutional Amendment Bill No 2 is already before Parliament.

Among the proposed amendments is the removal of the running mate clause, which was supposed to be effective in 2023. The other proposed changes will give the President the power to hire and fire his deputies, appoint judges and sign international treaties without parliamentary oversight, among others.

The amendments, observers say, are aimed at consolidating power in the presidency while whittling down the influence of such arms of government as Parliament. Civic society organisations have also raised concern on the timing of the changes done on some clauses that have not yet been implemented.

ERC said if the Bill is passed as is, the amendments posed a huge threat to national cohesion given the polarising effects of some of the proposed changes.

“From an election perspective, 20 out of the 27 clauses in the Bill have the potential to affect the credibility of the 2023 elections,” ERC said in a statement yesterday.

“Given the contentious nature of elections in Zimbabwe, the government of Zimbabwe is best advised to withdraw the proposed Bill, refer it to multiple platforms in existence for purposes of inclusive consultation to build a national consensus on whether amending the Constitution would be the best route forward and if it is, whether the proposed content best addresses current national challenges.”

ERC said the removal of the running mate clause to allow the President to appoint his deputies would deprive citizens the right to elect the Vice-Presidents, apart from breeding a situation where the country will be left without a successor should the President become incapacitated.

“Clause 13 and 14 on appointment of judges and their tenure of office seeks to give the President appointing authority of sitting judges for the Supreme Court or High Court,” ERC said.

“The proposed changes will tilt the electoral playing field in favour of a sitting President who may be a candidate in that he or she will decide who determines any challenge to his or her election in court should the election be disputed.”

The watchdog further argues that the extension of the women quota provision and proportional representation falls short of equal representation as envisioned in Section 17 of the Constitution, arguing that the quota system has not achieved the desired equal representation of women in public offices. Human rights violations are often committed during elections, ERC added, and the removal of public interviews during the appointment of the Prosecutor-General in Clause 19 makes the office beholden to the appointing authority who may be an interested party in an election.

“Given the electoral implications of amending the Constitution as proposed in the Constitutional Amendment Bill No. 2, broad-based consensus must be the basis of moving forward,” the watchdog said.

“Decisions on how future elections will be conducted cannot be left to the party with a majority in Parliament or control of the Executive. If anything, the ruling party has everything to gain from being consultative on decisions that affect the future of the country.”