Tinkering with term limits inimical to democracy 

Source: Tinkering with term limits inimical to democracy – The Zimbabwe Independent December 6, 2019


President Emmerson Mnangagwa

Kudzai Kuwaza

Barely two years after removing its long-serving leader Robert Mugabe as its president and leader, Zanu PF is planning to tinker with the 2013 constitution to extend President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s term beyond the two provided for by the law as the head of state.

The move has raised questions over the septuagenarian leader’s commitment to democracy and constitutionalism while exposing his greed for power.Zimbabwe adopted a new constitution in 2013 at a time when there was growing disapproval over Mugabe’s long and continued stay in power, with parties who crafted the constitution agreeing on a presidential term limit.

Zanu PF secretary for administration Obert Mpofu exposed the scheme at the party’s youth convention in Kadoma last week, saying the ruling party would leverage on its two-thirds majority in parliament to effect these proposed constitutional changes.

“Mr President, you can go beyond 2028 if you so wish because the issue of law can be taken care of in parliament,” Mpofu said.

When Mnangagwa took to the podium, he declared that nothing would stop his party from making such constitutional amendments.

“We can change the laws … there is nothing that we want that cannot be done because we command two-thirds majority in parliament,” Mnangagwa said.

This is in sharp contrast to the promises Mnangagwa made when he came to power after a coup in 2017 where he promised to usher in “a new kind of democracy” in front of thousands of euphoric Zimbabweans who believed that the new administration would address the democracy deficit as well as entrench constitutionalism.

The mooted plans to extend Mnangagwa’s leadership beyond the stipulated two terms comes as Mnangagwa has just completed the first year of his five-year term in office after winning last year’s disputed polls.

His tenure has been riddled with a plethora of problems which include questions over his legitimacy, factional fights within his party and global condemnation over human rights abuses following the killing of civilians by soldiers during protests as well as the banning of demonstrations by the opposition party, the MDC Alliance, and other groupings.

His time in office has also been bedeviled by an ailing economy characterised by a debilitating liquidity crunch, prolonged power cuts of up to 18 hours daily, runaway inflation which has eroded incomes resulting in a crippling strike by doctors and unrest in the civil service and capacity utilisation of below 40%.
Given the challenges dogging his rule, critics say he ought to be focusing on fixing the problems and ensuring he finishes his current term of office ending in 2023.

The premature declaration by Zanu PF, which has already sparked uproar, is inimical to democracy, according to political analyst Eldred Masunungure.

“This is deeply troubling and retrogressive. You would not expect someone in the 21st century to be moving in that direction,” Masunungure said.

“The trend the world over is to instal two-term limits. We have seen the revoking of two-term limits being done by autocratic regimes to entrench dictatorship in their countries.

“He (Mnangagwa) is not even half-way through his first term. I really hope that this does not come to pass because it will represent the worst episode in the history of Zimbabwe politics.”

He added that changing the constitution to extend Mnangagwa’s term of office will be an insult to the painstaking four years devoted to the constitution-making process by various stakeholders.

Should Mnangagwa extend his term of office beyond 2028, he will join the list of African leaders who tinker with the country’s supreme law to tenaciously hold on to power.

Similar efforts by the likes of Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza and Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni have stoked tensions in those countries, prompting civil unrest. Others such as former Namibian President Sam Nujoma have also tried to extend their term of office, but failed.

The move to introduce two-term limits in the current constitution was informed by the leadership tenure of Mugabe. Mugabe, who died a few months ago, had ruled the country for nearly 40 years. His leadership was characterised by a disastrous economic decline that culminated in the country’s currency being rendered worthless due to hyperinflation in 2009 after the central bank printing excess money.

Mugabe’s leadership was also littered with repression that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Zimbabweans particularly during the Gukurahundi massacres in Midlands and Matabeleland in the mid-1980s and during the run up to the 2008 presidential election rerun in which scores of MDC members and civilians were maimed and killed. It needed a military coup in 2017 to oust the doddering nonagenarian leader who once declared that only God could remove him from power.

With memories of Mugabe’s long reign which caused severe consternation among the country’s citizens, Mnangagwa’s plans are a stark reminder to the general populace that he is just like his political mentor, Mugabe.

There is a real danger of major unrest in the county should Mnangagwa go ahead and extend his term of office, warns political analyst Tawanda Zinyama.

“Zimbabweans will never accept this. Remember that this has caused serious unrest in the Great Lakes region in countries such as Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is wishful thinking and people can dream,” Zinyama said.

“This call is coming from sycophants in the party who are desperately trying to show Mnangagwa how loyal they are to him. What they say to Mnangagwa publicly is not what they will be saying at night.”

Zinyama said Mnangagwa is aware that he is very unpopular after his dismal failure to revive the economy and increase democratic space.

Political analyst Ibbo Mandaza said Mnangagwa’s announcement that they could change the country’s supreme law to extend his term of office is steeped in the realms of fantasy.

“This is highly presumptuous given Mnangagwa’s age and the unknown in politics. This is political daydreaming,” Mandaza said.