from Africa in Transition

Mugabe and Opposition Deadlocked Over New Constitution for Zimbabwe

September 14, 2012

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In the bloody aftermath of the 2008 elections, the Southern African Development Committee (SADC)  drew up and approved a unity government scenario to move the country forward.  In this scenario, incumbent Zimbabwe African National Political Union-Patriotic Front’s (ZANU-PF) Robert Mugabe continued to serve as president, while opposition Movement for Democratic Change’s (MDC) Morgan Tsvangirai became prime minister.  They also planned to draft a new constitution and submit it to the people for ratification.  Finally a new voters’ role would be established. Only then would national elections be held.

That unity government has now all but broken down.  Mugabe, elderly and probably ill, and his supporters want elections sooner rather than later.  There is also deadlock between ZANU-PF on the one hand, and the two opposition parties, MDC and MDC-T, on the other,  over the new constitution. Over the past two years, the Constitution Parliamentary Select Committee (COPAC) drafted a new constitution, which it thought had been approved by the party principles and could be submitted this month to the voters for ratification.  But ZANU-PF’s politburo has insisted on a complete re-write of the draft to preserve the current powers of the presidency and appears to provide other advantages to ZANU-PF.  Many in the Zimbabwean opposition suspect that Mugabe’s goal in pushing for elections sooner is to ensure they are held before the new constitution is adopted; effectively ensuring a ZANU-PF victory.

The MDC and MDC-T are asking South African president Jacob Zuma to intervene to break the deadlock over the constitution.  Zuma may have the leverage to break the constitutional impasse, but only if he is willing to pressure Mugabe.

In a development that may be related to the Zimbabwe constitutional stalemate, the Zimbabwe finance minister is asking South Africa for a loan, possibly for as much as $U.S. 10 million, though that amount has not been confirmed.  The South African opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), is urging Zuma’s African National Congress (ANC) government not to give Zimbabwe a "blank cheque" but to ring-fence it for specific purposes.  The DA shadow finance minister said he shared the suspicion of Zimbabwean opposition figures that the money could otherwise be used by ZANU-PF in the upcoming election campaign.

Zimbabwe does, however, appear to be running out of money.  The Zimbabwean finance minister says there is no money to conduct by-elections in thirty-eight vacant constituencies.  There are also reports that government revenue from diamonds is diverted from the treasury to ZANU-PF and the military.