BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA/HARRIET CHIKANDIWA/RICHARD MUPONDE
CONSTITUTIONAL Amendment No 2 Bill sailed through Senate yesterday with three MDC-T senators, Piniel Denga, Morgan Femai and Jane Chifamba voting in Zanu PF’s corner to help the ruling party achieve the required two-thirds majority.
Independent political analysts described the development as “a sad milestone for democracy”, while the ruling Zanu PF party hailed it as “a momentous occasion”.
The Bill sailed through the Third Reading Stage after 65 senators voted in the affirmative, while 10 senators rejected the Bill which will amend the Constitution for the second time.
The amendments give the President unfettered power to handpick his deputies and judges.
Zanu PF, which only has 53 senators, needed one vote from the opposition to achieve two-thirds majority.
The affirmative votes came to 65 after the ruling party and the MDC-T held their party caucuses on Monday where they whipped their members to ensure that they vote for its passage.
The MDC-T ordered its three members to vote in the affirmative for its passage, resulting in Denga, Femai and Chifamba doing so.
Chiefs, who are supposed to be non-partisan, and the two senators representing people with disabilities, Rejoice Timire and Watson Khupe, rallied behind Zanu PF to give it 65 votes.
In a statement, MDC-T party spokesperson Witness Dube yesterday tried to downplay the fact that the opposition party aided Zanu PF to pass the amendments against the people’s will.
Dube said those that supported the amendments were female senators who were in support of clauses in the Bill which guarantee the extension of the proportional representation quota to 2033.
Contrary to his claims, only one female from the MDC-T, Chifamba voted affirmatively while the other two, Denga and Femai are males.
“As the MDC-T, we debated vigorously, and fought valiantly to oppose this Bill primarily because of the running mate and the Chief Justice clauses. While we understand how difficult it was for women in the MDC-T to have been conflicted between the age-old position of the party and their desire to make gains in the women’s movement, we are disappointed by male senators who may have absconded from the vote without giving any reasons,” Dube said.
Law expert Alex Magaisa said: “They have butchered the Constitution. We are returning to a constitutionalised authoritarian regime. It is only the beginning of a process. By the time they are done with the amendments, the Constitution will not be recognised from the one adopted through a referendum.
“The whole aim of adopting the Constitution was to trim the powers of the President, but the amendment in both Bills No 1 and No 2 has given back the draconian rule by Zanu PF, aided by MDC-T and its leader (Douglas) Mwonzora was one of the builders of the decapitation of the Constitution,” he said.
Magaisa warned that the country is likely to see more amendments of the Constitution.
“Now that Zanu PF knows that they have sufficient stooges for consolidation of power, more amendments are on the way. Rumours that the ruling party seeks to raise the presidential age limit for one to qualify to be President may also come true, including other measures to eliminate electoral competition under the guise of the Constitution. Unfortunately, Zanu PF is being assisted by a party MDC-T that purported to be representing democracy, “he said.
Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum executive director Musa Kika said the passage of the Bill was expected, but it was a sad milestone for democracy.
“We are seeing Parliament blatantly ignoring the voice of the people who have clearly said they do not want these amendments during public consultations, choosing to go with the voice of the ruling party leaders.
“The message being sent is that the regime will seek power consolidation at all costs — even if it means mutilating an eight-year-old people’s Constitution. It is time for citizens to hold their political leaders to account for this anti-people stance taken,” he said.
MDC Alliance vice-president Tendai Biti said he would challenge both the Constitutional Amendment No 1 Bill and the Constitutional Amendment No 2 Bill.
“It’s true we are seized with the matter. Yes, we are going to challenge both constitutional amendments. We will file the challenges in court very soon but I will not divulge the date,” he said.
Biti said court challenges were meant to expose anomalies apart from winning them.
Observers said the court challenges for the constitutional amendments would only be academic.
After passage of the Bill, Zanu PF senators broke into celebration as Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi described the event as a “historic occasion” which will enhance preparations for the 2023 elections.
“I am also very elated in that we now can plan for the 2023 elections knowing pretty sure that we have the women quota and the youth quota. We have a year-and-a-half to go to the elections and we needed finality in this regard. I am very happy that we can now prepare both as political parties and as government towards those elections,” he said.