The Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 2) Bill, which proposes a raft of amendments to the Constitution, went through its Second Reading and Committee stage in the Senate yesterday without any further amendment and will go to the Third Reading, the final stage, on Tuesday next week.
Since the amendment has already gone through the National Assembly with the required two-thirds majority, should it receive that same level of approval or better in the Senate at the Third Reading, it can then become part of the Constitution.
The only clause that caused a division, a vote where a split is recorded, was the clause on allowing judges of the High and Supreme Courts to be promoted to a higher court without having to go through another public hearing, as they would have gone through that process in their original appointment to the bench and it being felt undignified for judges to publicly compete for promotion.
But 45 senators voted in favour of retaining the new provision, while only 19 voted against. If, and this is not considered likely since the 19 joined the majority in approving the other 26 clauses, the same group votes against the Bill on the Third Reading it will still pass as the 19 are not a large enough group to be a blocking third.
In the Second Reading, where the principles of the Bill are debated, Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi outlined for senators the main provisions of the Bill and the reasons why the proposed amendments were desired.
A major proposal is to retain the present system whereby the President appoints the vice-presidents. In the Constitution, this was supposed to change in 2023 to have the President, First Vice-President and Second Vice-President stand for election as a team.
The present feeling is that the interim system should be made permanent to allow the President to make the choice.
A second major proposal, which has seen near universal support, was to retain for another 10 years a special provision to have an additional block of women MPs in the National Assembly, elected by party lists using proportional representation in each province.
It had been hoped that in the first decade of the present Constitution that societies would change sufficiently swiftly to make gender balance automatic. This has not been the case, hence the desire for another 10 years of an interim measure.
The National Assembly went further, and agreed that a similar provision, with an additional block of women councillors equal to a third of the council membership, should be chosen by party lists. The Senate agreed in the Committee Stage.
For judges, it was felt that sitting judges should not have to compete with each other in public interviews when being considered for promotion, this tending to be undignified.
This is the single point where there was a vote later on in the committee stage. Judges will also be able to serve until they are 75 if they are fit and willing once the amendment becomes law.
The Prosecutor General will still be appointed in way to guarantee independence, the President having to follow the advice of the Judicial Service Commission and with a tribunal appointed to recommend any dismissal. But the two processes will not be identical to those used for judges, as it was felt that a judge should retain a higher status.
The last major amendment was to sort out the provincial councils, with the MPs and senators from each province no longer able to sit on these councils since Parliament is supposed to oversee the provincial councils and legislators cannot be judges on themselves. This will also enhance devolution.