BY RICHARD MUPONDE/ MIRIAM MANGWAYA
EMBATTLED MDC-T leader Douglas Mwonzora was yesterday battling to douse fires sparked by his decision to whip his MPs to support Zanu PF-championed constitutional changes that critics say would give President Emmerson Mnangagwa unchecked powers.
On Tuesday, Constitutional Amendment Bill No 2 sailed through the Lower House on a 191 to 22 majority, with Mwonzora’s MPs, except for four, voting for the amendment of the Constitution.
The move by Mwonzora, observers said, confirmed long-held suspicions that the MDC-T leader is a Zanu PF surrogate.
Mwonzora’s deputy, Thokozani Khupe, MPs Nomvula Mguni, Phelela Masuku and Paurina Mpariwa joined Nelson Chamisa’s MDC Alliance legislators in rejecting the constitutional amendments that will see Mnangagwa appointing judges without public scrutiny and extend their terms of office after reaching retirement age.
The proposed changes will also see the scrapping off of the clause on running mates that was set to come into effect in 2023 to settle succession disputes and give Mnangagwa sole power to appoint his deputies.
Following its passage in the National Assembly, the Bill now goes back to Senate, where if it passes, will go to Mnangagwa for his signature to become law, sealing the contentious changes to the governance charter overwhelmingly voted for by the people in a referendum in 2013.
Khupe’s spokesperson Khaliphani Phugeni said his boss voted against the Bill because she perceived the changes as retrogressive.
However, Mwonzora yesterday hastily convened a Press conference, where he painstakingly argued that his actions were in the public interest.
He said his party valued the empowerment of women and the youth, not the part that gave Mnangagwa power to handpick judges and his deputies.
“We were advancing the cause of women who constitute 52% of the country’s population,” Mwonzora said.
“We think the rights of the 52% are more important than the two clauses which give Mnangagwa power. Just to allay the fear, four out of the six clauses in the Bill are in the best interest of the majority of the people of Zimbabwe.
“You should also understand that it’s not over as the Bill will come to the Senate, where it would be debated. Amendment of the Constitution is a process, not a one-day thing.”
Speaking about his MPs who voted against the amendments, Mwonzora said the legislators had genuine cases because they were faced with a dilemma over the “sweet-bitter” Bill.
“I know there is a group you want to promote which voted ‘no’. That won’t be fair. We have vice-president Khupe and the deputy chief whip in the Assembly. Madam Khupe is the leader of the opposition and it’s her responsibility,” he said.
“She was there in Parliament and I don’t know whether she was there at the committee stage. I was not in Parliament. I didn’t vote in the Assembly and the Bill will come to the Senate.”
MDC-T chairperson Morgen Komichi, who voted against the Bill in Senate last week, appeared to be now toeing the opposition party line.
“There’s no democracy without youth and women, hence the Bill is talking of women and youth quota in Parliament and councils,” Komichi said yesterday.
“We have adopted a strategy to put food on the table of women and the youth. We are happy with the clauses as MDC-T. We don’t support clauses that give powers to Mnangagwa, but we lost during the vote.”
However analysts said even without Mwonzora’s input, the Bill would still have sailed through to the Senate, although the whole process had undermined the rights of the electorate.
“Even if Mwonzora’s MPs had not voted for the Bill, Zanu PF had always been the super majority, although not democratic enough to be trusted to make decisions on very important issues to do with the Constitution, the supreme law of the land,” said political analyst Eldred Masunungure.
“What happened yesterday (Tuesday voting for the Constitution Amendment Bill 2) was a subversion of the supremacy of the electorate which is a dangerous trail on the Zimbabwean democratic space?”
Another analyst, Alexander Rusero, said: “Government authorities can amend a constitutional clause or repeal a statutory instrument wherever they regard it necessary, as long as it will help them consolidate power.
“We have had only 19 constitutional amendments in 37 years, but we will have at least 30 in three years under the so-called new dispensation.”
The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum said the procedures that were followed in passing the Bill through Parliament were unconstitutional since the citizens rejected the amendments last year during public consultations.
“Citizens, civil society, the international community and the democratic opposition, all spoke against the amendments,” the rights group said in a statement.
“If our government was truly a government for the people, and if the leadership were truly a listening leadership, surely the democratic wishes of the majority would carry the day.”
Legal think-tank Veritas said the Amendment Bill was flawed and unconstitutional because the clauses which were changed did not go through the normal procedure as stipulated in the laws of the land.
In its bulletin on Tuesday, Veritas said most of the changes which the National Assembly made to the Bill at committee stage materially alter clauses of the original Bill or added new clauses which were never in the original Bill.
“Hence, they are unconstitutional because they were made without going through the procedure laid down in section 328 of the Constitution,” Veritas said.