Mnangagwa's third term push a threat to democracy

President Emmerson Mnangagwa's bid for a third term in office is a stark betrayal of his professed democratic values.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa's bid for a third term in office is a stark betrayal of his professed democratic values.

Having presented himself as a champion of democracy, his latest move aligns him with notorious African leaders who have similarly undermined democratic principles.

This opinion piece argues that Mnangagwa's pursuit of a third term not only erodes Zimbabwe's democratic gains, but also sets a dangerous precedent for the region.

Mnangagwa, who came to power in 2017 after the ouster of long-time authoritarian ruler Robert Mugabe, had initially portrayed himself as a champion of democratic reforms. However, his recent actions suggest a worrying trend of undermining the very democratic credentials he once touted.

The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC) last month castigated attempts by the ruling party to amend the constitution and push for Mnangagwa’s third term, saying the move is illegal.

 This came amid reports that Zanu PF was engaged in covert political manoeuvres to push for the party’s leader’s bid to extend his stay in office.

 Mnangagwa (81) is currently serving his second and final term, having been first elected in 2018. The Zimbabwean Constitution only allows a president to serve a maximum of two terms.

In its call for action dubbed “Zim Constitution @11: Strengthening and defending the gains”, CiZC said the manoeuvres were not only illegal, but unfortunate as they would stifle the progress gained in constitutionalism in Zimbabwe.

A video of a Zanu PF Masvingo provincial meeting held in February showed some party leaders chanting the slogan 2030 vaMnangagwa vanenge vachipo (Mnangagwa will be in office in 2030).

At a Robert Mugabe National Youth Day event which Mnangagwa attended, Masvingo Provincial Affairs minister Ezra Chadzamira said: “We all want you (Mnangagwa) to stay in office beyond your presidential term. You will be there in 2030.”

In his address  Mnangagwa said he was here to stay and only God knew when he would vacate office.

According to Section 328, to effectively extend presidential term limits, there must be two separate Constitutional Bills passed by each house of Parliament and voted for by a public majority in a referendum.

Subsection (7) of Section 328 states: “Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, an amendment to a term-limit provision, the effect of which is to extend the length of time that a person may hold or occupy any public office, does not apply in relation to any person who held or occupied that office, or an equivalent office, at any time before the amendment.”

What this means is that the incumbent or any other person who has held the office can’t benefit from any constitutional amendment that extends the term limits.

So, by this standard, Mnangagwa can’t enjoy the benefits of any changes to term limits. But that’s not the end of it. As with anything in the constitution, this clause can be amended.

Section 328(8) says that the change in the voting structure and methods of Constitutional Bills, as well as the limitations placed on beneficial extension of term limits, cannot be amended in the same Bill.

What does all this mean? It means that Mnangagwa would first need a Bill to remove the law that says he cannot benefit from term limit extensions.

This would need him to face a referendum. He would also need a second Bill to change the term limits themselves.

Mnangagwa's democratic credentials were once hailed as a breath of fresh air in Zimbabwe's political landscape. However, his latest maneuvers exposes his true intentions to consolidate power and disregard the very democratic tenets he espoused.

 This move is eerily reminiscent of other African leaders who have similarly subverted democracy to extend their rule. Uganda's Yoweri Museveni and Rwanda's Paul Kagame come to mind, having both manipulated their constitutions to remain in power.

In contrast, neighbouring countries like Zambia, Malawi, and Namibia have demonstrated a commitment to democratic principles, showcasing the region's potential for genuine democratic governance.

Zambia's peaceful transfer of power in 2021 and Malawi's judicially upheld election re-run in 2020 exemplify the resilience of democracy in the face of adversity.

Namibia's consistent adherence to democratic norms has earned it a reputation as one of Africa's most stable democracies.

Mnangagwa's attempt to join the ranks of Africa's democratic pretenders not only harms Zimbabwe's democratic prospects but also undermines regional efforts to consolidate democracy.

His actions send a chilling message to Zimbabweans and the international community that democratic principles are mere window dressing for authoritarian ambitions.

The implications of Mnangagwa's third term bid are far-reaching and ominous. It sets a dangerous precedent for future leaders, emboldening them to disregard constitutional limits and entrench themselves in power.

This not only undermines Zimbabwe's democratic institutions but also imperils the rule of law and the protection of human rights.

In contrast, Zimbabwe's democratic trajectory under Mnangagwa has been marked by a series of concerning developments. The crackdown on dissent, the manipulation of electoral processes, and the erosion of civil liberties have all contributed to a worrying pattern of democratic backsliding.

Moreover, the pursuit of a third term would undermine the legitimacy of Zimbabwe's political system, casting doubt on the country's commitment to the principles of free and fair elections.

This, in turn, could have far-reaching consequences for the country's standing in the international community and its ability to attract much-needed foreign investment and aid.

 It is crucial that Mnangagwa and his administration heed the lessons from neighbouring countries that have successfully navigated the path of democratic consolidation.

 Zimbabwe's democratic future hangs in the balance, and Mnangagwa's actions will be closely scrutinised by both its citizens and the international community.

A decision to pursue a third term would not only betray the democratic aspirations of Zimbabweans but also undermine the country's prospects for economic and social progress.

In the face of these challenges, it is incumbent upon Mnangagwa and his government to reaffirm their commitment to the principles of democracy, transparency, and the peaceful transfer of power.

 Only then can Zimbabwe truly chart a course towards a brighter, more prosperous future  one that is built on the foundations of a robust and inclusive democratic system.

 *Gary Gerald Mtombeni is a journalist based in Harare. He writes here in his own personal capacity. For feedback Email [email protected]/ call- +263778861608

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