Political Actors Dialogue (Polad) member and oppositon National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) leader Lovemore Madhuku has been critical of constitutional amendments which seek to grant President Emmerson Mnangagwa powers to unilaterally appoint judges and chief justice, among others. A constitutional law expert, Madhuku (LM) last week spoke to NewsDay (ND) senior reporter Cliff Chiduku on Polad, recalls of MPs, the proposed Patriotic Bill and the state of affairs in opposition politics, among other issues. Read on…
ND: You have been a Polad member since its inception. So many things were promised when it was launched. Looking back, what have you achieved?
LM: Polad’s biggest achievement is its mere existence as a platform where political leaders and parties from different backgrounds and persuasions are able to exchange ideas on how best to move the country forward. Political tolerance has already been born, it is now growing. Its irreversible fruits will be felt with time. To be sure, because of Polad, the political environment under which the 2023 general elections will be held will be the best since independence in 1980.
ND: Why has progress been limited in terms of reforms? Is it lack of leadership or political will?
LM: I think by limited progress, you are referring to the absence of immediate electoral and political reforms that we can point to as Polad outcomes. In that respect, I would agree that there is indeed limited progress. However, in the economic terrain, some Polad proposals have been implemented such as on currency reforms.
In the political and electoral arena, we have set a solid framework for dialogue. We have many proposals that are nearing fruition, particularly our setting the stage for changes to the Electoral Act ahead of 2023.
ND: The platform has been criticised in various forums for being a talkshow and praise choir for Mnangagwa’s administration. This criticism may be extreme, but what in your opinion could be done by Polad to improve its work and offset the negative perceptions in the public?
LM: That criticism is not only extreme, but is also totally without foundation. Polad has been lacking a vigorous communication and information desk. Polad has to improve its information dissemination approach. Once the public is given access to the intense debates in Polad, the perceptions will disappear.
ND: You have publicly criticised Constitutional Amendment No 2 Bill. What are the specific things that you want changed and how?
LM: My criticism against Constitutional Amendment Bill (No 2) is from two fronts. First, as NCA, we believe the whole current Constitution was not people-driven and that Zimbabweans were cheated by the inclusive government to vote “yes” in the 2013 referendum.
From that front, we see Constitutional Amendment Bill (No 2) as the continuation of the imposition of a Constitution on the people by ruling politicians. Secondly, I have spoken against the Bill on behalf of Polad. In Polad, we recommended that the Bill be withdrawn to give room to Polad and other stakeholders to finalise their discussions on electoral and political reforms.
Polad is of the view that some electoral and political reforms that may be agreed in future may require amendments to the Constitution. Accordingly, it makes sense not to rush the Bill now before finalising electoral and political reforms that may entail constitutional amendments. It is also worth noting that this Bill has been roundly criticised. For that reason, as part of the political culture we are striving to build, government must take a step back and listen. Unfortunately, it appears we are losing the battle as Zanu PF is bent on passing Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment Bill (No 2).
ND: At face value the proposed Patriotic Bill sounds noble. However, there are many fears among the public that the Bill can be used to shrink democratic space. What do you think the Bill should look like when it comes before Parliament?
LM: I respectfully disagree that there is any value in a Patriotic Bill. There is no room for a Patriotic Bill or Patriotic Act in this country. Such a law will never pass constitutional muster. It is unnecessary, undesirable and dangerous. It is dangerous in that no State can define patriotism. So such a law is a vehicle for oppression. It must not be allowed.
ND: Your views on 2018 elections are public. You decried competitive politics being reduced to a two-horse race — Zanu PF or MDC Alliance and little in between. Do you still see Zimbabweans being mature to accept a third horse? Will you present yourself as a presidential candidate in 2023, offering that alternative voice?
LM: Our agenda as the NCA is to annihilate the two-party system and contribute to a truly multi-party political system. We are succeeding in that regard. Zimbabweans now appreciate the value of having more than the two political parties. The 2023 elections will show you the results.
The NCA will field a presidential candidate and candidates for parliamentary and local authority seats. I will be a presidential candidate as long as I am NCA president. Zimbabweans are getting out of political polarisation. The NCA is growing and will be a ruling party soon.
ND: Your stance on constitutional reforms is well entrenched in the annals of history. Do you for a moment regret the decision to oppose the (Godfrey) Chidyausiku draft in 2000 considering that the 2013-adopted document is not significantly different from the 2000 draft?
LM: The “no” vote of 2000 remains one of the best strategies we adopted as a movement. With that strategy, we demonstrated our commitment to a genuine democracy founded on people-driven processes. We rejected the very idea of imposing a Constitution on the people. What I regret is our failure to stop the 2013 Constitution. Until Zimbabweans get involved in a genuine constitution-making process, we will remain with a constitutional system that allows the government of the day to do what it likes.
ND: Prior to 2016, the formal launch of NCA as a political party you had close links to MDC and labour. However, it seems you have moved on and now hold different beliefs. What went wrong?
LM: I have not moved away from the philosophy of the working people’s convention of February 1999. The NCA is the only political party in the country that truly believes in social democracy that shaped the resolutions of February 1999.
The NCA is closer to labour than the other political parties that claim to champion the interests of the working people. By labour, I do not mean trade union leaders: labour refers to the working people. We are not together because my former colleagues have moved away from all our essential beliefs.
ND: Do you think opposition parties can find a common ground in 2023 and come up with a coalition than can dislodge Zanu PF?
LM: There is no common ground. We have different ideologies. For example, on the Constitution, in the NCA we believe that the current Constitution is bad, that it was imposed on the people and that Zimbabweans must strive to make a new, democratic and people-driven Constitution, yet the MDCs say the same Constitution is the best thing that the country possesses. So we are worlds apart. Why waste time on a non-existent common ground?
ND: Do you think Zimbabwe should amend the Constitution and have, like in Germany, 50% of all National Assembly seats elected on proportional representation (PR) or the other extreme like South Africa all seats being contested on a PR basis?
LM: We must have a new Constitution that enshrines proportional representation. If Zimbabweans are given a genuine opportunity to debate electoral systems, I have no doubt that at the very least; they will opt for a mixed system with 50% of the seats allocated on the basis of PR. The PR system will ensure a true multi-party system and entrench gender justice in our politics.
ND: Last but not least, can we talk about recalls? Should the clause continue to be in our Constitution? Or it is a question of making political parties more democratic in the manner they exercise the recalls?
LM: Recalls at the instance of political parties must have no place in a democratic and people driven Constitution. Again if you give Zimbabweans a genuine opportunity to debate the recall clauses, they are likely to move to recalls by the electorate and not recalls by political parties.