Zanu-PF, MDC agree to amend Constitution

By Itai Musengeyi and Peter Matambanadzo
September 19, 2007

The Herald

ZANU-PF and MDC yesterday unanimously agreed to amend the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment Bill Number 18, which seeks to harmonise presidential and parliamentary elections from next year.

The six amendments that drew unity from both sides of the House and were agreed to in the ongoing dialogue between the two major political parties are:
  • The House of Assembly membership of 210 members is to be all directly elected by voters registered in the 210 constituencies to be delimitated following the passage of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment Number 18 Bill;

  • The Senate will be constituted of a membership of 93 members made up as follows:
– Six Senators per province directly elected by voters registered in the 60 Senatorial constituencies;

– 10 Provincial Governors appointed by the President in terms of legislation governing the appointment of Governors;

– The president and deputy president of the Council of Chiefs;

– 16 chiefs, being two chiefs from each of the provinces other than metropolitan provinces; and

– Five Senators appointed by the President.
  • The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to take over the delimitation of House of Assembly and Senatorial constituencies and local authority wards. There will be a consequent repeal of Sections 59 and 60 of the Constitution.

  • All four elections – for President, House of Assembly, Senatorial and Local Authorities – are to be synchronised and take place on one day.

  • To minimise logistical problems, the Commission will, in determining the limits of council wards, be empowered to ensure that no ward falls into two or more House of Assembly constituencies. This change introduces a ward voters' roll and a voter can only vote in the ward in which he or she is resident and registered as a voter.

  • The variation percentage from the mean (average) constituency population will be reduced from 25 percent (as per Constitution Amendment Number 18 Bill) to 20 percent as per the current Constitution, which means the status quo is being maintained.

  • The Parliamentary Committee on Standing Rules and Orders is to be consulted in the appointment of the Public Protector (proposed new name of the Ombudsman's Office) and Deputy Public Protector as well as the appointment of the chairperson of the proposed Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission.
Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister and Leader of the House Cde Patrick Chinamasa tabled the amendments and steered the Bill through the second reading, drawing applause from both benches of the House.

The amendments are expected to go through the committee stage today before the Bill is read for the third time and passed.

This development comes at a time when talks between the two parties have been progressing well, a move party leaders in Parliament described as a show of unity of purpose and political maturity.

In his second reading speech, Cde Chinamasa said the introduction of the Bill marked a historic moment in Zimbabwe.

"Mr Speaker Sir, the introduction of the Constitution of Zimbabwe No. 18 Bill, 2007 as read with the proposed Committee Stage Amendments, marks a historic moment in Zimbabwe in that for the first time, Zimbabweans on both sides of the political divide are demonstrating a commitment to take charge of their destiny.

"This should send a clear message to the world that Zimbabweans are their own liberators and that as Zimbabweans we will brook no external interference in our domestic affairs," said Cde Chinamasa.

The amendments would draw support from both the ruling party and the opposition benches, demonstrating a level of political maturity and a desire by Zimbabweans to fashion for themselves a common vision for their country.

"Mr Speaker Sir, I commend these constitutional changes for the consideration of the august House and pray that our new-found unity of purpose as Zimbabweans will endure," said the minister.

Cde Chinamasa warned that detractors would attempt to derail the process.

"There will be those here and abroad who will not find favour with the co-operation over resolution of national issues that is to be demonstrated in this august House. To those, this co-operation poses danger to their own interests and agendas. We should resist such pressures to derail us from the direction that we are choosing," he said.

Cde Chinamasa said the Bill was testimony to issues that have been on the agenda for a long time and generated a lot of debate.

These will, after the passage of the Bill, become finally settled and put to rest.

The two MDC factions, one led by Mr Morgan Tsvangirai and the other by Professor Arthur Mutambara, welcomed the amendments and described them as a development which would foster relations between their party and Zanu-PF as well as addressing the various social and economic challenges facing the country.

Debating the amendments, Member of Parliament for Makokoba and deputy leader in the Tsvangirai faction Ms Thokozani Khupe said they were committed to the process and fully supported it.

"The dialogue that has taken place and is still taking place has gone a long way in deconstructing the matrix of intolerance in our society and hopefully this process is irreversible," Ms Khupe said.

"Our party is committed to this process. It is in this regard that as a confidence-building measure we take the bold decision of not standing in the way of Constitution Amendment Number 18 Bill as amended by the negotiating teams," Ms Khupe said.

She said the MDC backs the resolutions on Zimbabwe taken by the Sadc Extraordinary Summit in Tanzania in March.

"We welcome the Sadc Heads of States' resolution in Dar es Salaam on Zimbabwe as being important," said Ms Khupe.

Some of the Sadc resolutions were that there should be dialogue between Zanu-PF and the MDC to resolve the problems in Zimbabwe, condemnation of illegal economic sanctions and criticism of Britain for reneging on its colonial obligation to fund land reforms.

"This (agreement by Zanu-PF and the MDC on the amendments) should be regarded as the first step of a holistic resolution to the Zimbabwe crisis," said Ms Khupe.

She said the negotiating teams should deliberate further on other important aspects, including the overhaul of the security, media and electoral laws.

Bulawayo North-East MP and secretary general of the Mutambara faction Professor Welshmen Ncube also supported the Bill.

"I fully and unconditionally endorse the remarks made by my colleague (Ms Khupe). I confirm what the Honourable Minister of Justice has said in his statement in respect of the process and content of the negotiations between the Government and Zanu-PF on one hand, and the MDC in its collective sense," Prof Ncube said.

He said the two parties had taken the right steps to address the socio-economic challenges and the two leaders of the MDC factions were impressed with the progress being made by the dialogue.

"As the negotiating teams move on with the rest of the agenda (of the talks), electoral laws, AIPPA (Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act) and, indeed, the question of sanctions, they are on the agenda and we will deal with them. We hope to find each other.

"We believe we cannot continue to conduct politics for the sake of politics. We should begin to conduct politics for the service of the people," Prof Ncube said.

Nkulumane legislator and deputy leader in the Mutambara faction Mr Gibson Sibanda also welcomed the landmark development, saying the nation should now collectively find a lasting solution to its problems.

"Today is the beginning of a historic moment in this House. Indeed, I find today that between the two parties represented here we can find the solution to the crisis in Zimbabwe. We are in the process of making history and finding solutions to the crisis," he said.

Mr Sibanda said despite the divisions between Zanu-PF and the MDC, the two parties were showing maturity and addressing their differences.

"I support and add my voice to the smooth passage of the Constitution Amendment Number 18 Bill and continued dialogue between Zanu-PF and MDC. Indeed, we are united as Zimbabweans," he said.

Zanu-PF Chief Whip and MP for Mberengwa West Cde Joram Gumbo said yesterday's events showed Zimbabweans were level-minded people who could sit together and resolve their own problems internally.

"We from this side of the House want to say the chickens have come to roost. We realise now that we are Zimbabweans. We, as Zimbabweans, are able to come together and solve our issues," said Cde Gumbo.

He said on a day like yesterday he, as Government Chief Whip, would have been running up and down and the Speaker dividing the House for MPs to vote for a decision.

"We support the Bill and welcome the position taken by our colleagues to support the Bill," said Cde Gumbo.

In response, Cde Chinamasa thanked both sides of the House for their support and said this showed they were one big collective family supporting the Bill.

However, he said some of the issues raised by the MDC leaders in their speeches had been made at an inappropriate forum.

"The remarks were trying to draw me to negotiate publicly. I will certainly not be tempted to publicly dialogue," he pointed out.

The MDC leaders had said they still wanted what they called a people-driven Constitution, an overhaul of some security and media laws, a comprehensive Bill of Rights and an independent electoral commission reporting to Parliament.

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