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Anxiety grips constitutional team before Zimbabwe referendum

Source:Xinhua Published: 2013-3-12 9:21:06

The parliamentary select committee spearheading the constitutional process in Zimbabwe is enduring anxious final moments, less than a week before Zimbabweans vote to decide the fate of a new constitution draft, Xinhua learned Monday.

Co-chairperson of the Constitution Parliamentary Select Committee (COPAC) Douglas Mwonzora said in an interview that the most serious problem they hoped to avoid was voter apathy.

"We are just anxious to get past the vote. There are certain happenings that may promote apathy. We would be worried with apathy where people may think that since all the parties are campaigning for a 'yes' vote then it's a done deal and they do not turn out to vote, " he said.

He said COPAC was interested in the success of a "yes" vote and wanted people to see the goodness of the draft, while the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission's task would be to act as a referee and oversee the conduct of the poll.

Mwonzora belongs to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC-T party.

Saturday's referendum will mark the end of a long and arduous journey that should have taken 18 months to complete but ended up overshooting the target date by more than 24 months.

The draft constitution seeks to replace the current one written at Lancaster House, London, prior to Zimbabwe's independence from Britain in 1980 and will be the second such attempt after the people rejected the first attempt in 2000.

The current process started after the power-sharing Global Political Agreement (GPA) of Sept. 15, 2008, which stipulated that a select committee of Parliament would lead a constitutional process, starting with the holding of an all-stakeholders conference to establish thematic committees to kick-start the process.

The GPA was formed after inconclusive elections in 2008, with the new government installed in 2009.

The first all-stakeholders conference in July 2009 suffered early disruptions before President Robert Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara urged their supporters to work peacefully towards the fulfilment of the process.

Through the thematic committees, the Constitution Parliamentary Select Committee (COPAC) spearheading the process then argued along party lines over how the outreach to gather the people's views should be conducted.

Although the parties sought to present a picture of the process being people driven, most of those who made presentations at the meetings did so along party lines after being coached what to say, to the extent that political violence erupted during the initial stages of the outreach as they aired opposing views.

More disputes pitting Mugabe's Zanu-PF and the two MDC parties led by Tsvangirai and Industry and Commerce Minister Welshman Ncube, who has taken over leadership from Mutambara.

Mugabe's party wanted a quantitative analysis of the captured data, while the other parties wanted a qualitative analysis of the same.

Initially, Mugabe's party had indicated that it would reject the draft constitution because it contained clauses it deemed offensive, and not recognizing the role played by war veterans in the struggle for independence, among other issues.

However, protracted negotiations among the parties led to a compromise, leading all the three parties in the inclusive government to campaign for a "yes" vote.

According to the power-sharing GPA that led to the formation of the inclusive government and a Southern African Development Community roadmap, Zimbabweans should elect a new government after the writing of a new constitution.

The assumption is that the people will vote "yes" for the new constitution at the referendum. The draft is also being measured against three other drafts that have been available since 2000 when the first attempt to replace the current Lancaster House constitution was made.

The first one was drafted by a commission appointed by Mugabe and led by Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku.

The second was a parallel effort by non-governmental organization the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) and the third, the Kariba draft, was produced in 2007 by the three parties which now form the inclusive government, ahead of the 2008 elections.

The Chidyausiku Commission draft, which was put before the people in a referendum in early 2000, was rejected on the basis that it vested too much power in the president, while the parallel one produced by the NCA was not considered.

When the current constitutional process began, Mugabe wanted it to be premised on the Kariba draft, but the two MDC factions rejected the idea and prevailed upon him that the process should be people-driven.

It was also agreed that an outreach should be conducted to gather the people's views on the proposed constitution.

It turned out, however, that despite the outreach, the process became more of a negotiation among the parties than people-driven.

Attempts have been made to justify the negotiations, with COPAC co-chairpersons from the three parties saying that at times they had to negotiate following international best practices to fill in gaps the people had left untouched during the outreach.
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