ZIMBABWE’S three main parties appear set to abandon their commitment to a new constitution before elections following insurmountable disagreements, New Zimbabwe.com can reveal.
Instead, Zanu PF and the two MDC factions are now seriously considering amending the current Lancaster House Constitution – an admission the US$42 million exercise to draft a new constitution is doomed.
The plan to introduce Amendment 20, giving effect to areas of agreement between the parties, was revealed by Finance Minister and MDC-T secretary general Tendai Biti in London last Friday.
Biti told an investment conference the parties would then ask Zimbabweans to weigh in on the contested issues at a referendum to run simultaneously with general elections set to be held this year.
The development is a serious blow to Zimbabwe’s reform agenda agreed by the parties in September 2008, which had a new constitution as the centrepiece.
New Zimbabwe.com understands a cabinet taskforce set up to try and break the impasse will meet the coalition leaders on Thursday to make four recommendations.
A source familiar with the negotiations said: “The first of those recommendations will be that the principals should try and reach a compromise on the contentious issues in order to save the draft constitution of July 18. This will likely fail.
“The second recommendation is that SADC, as the guarantors of the power sharing agreement, should step in and break the impasse. Zanu PF is likely to resist this.
“The third suggestion will be that the parties should all agree to take the July 18 draft to a referendum as is, but we know Zanu PF has already trashed that document so that one is a dead end.
“The fourth option is to take the July draft constitution to a referendum with the agreed positions and ask Zimbabweans to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The people will also decide on the disputed areas by being offered two alternatives. There is no appetite for that vexatious procedure.
“The final recommendation which seems to be gaining traction is the Amendment 20 route. It was in fact introduced by Patrick Chinamasa of Zanu PF and all three parties have since come up with their own positions.”
Zanu PF wants all the provisions it accepts to be introduced into the Lancaster House Constitution as Amendment 20, while the disputed provisions fall away retaining the status quo on issues such as presidential running mates, devolution, presidential powers, constitutional court, land commission, peace and reconciliation commission and the attorney general’s powers.
The plan came under attack, particularly from the MDC led by Welshman Ncube, which pointed out that Zanu PF was in fact trying to give effect to its politburo’s amendments to the July 18 draft.
The Zanu PF politburo rejected changes such as devolution, the introduction of presidential running mates, the establishment of a constitutional court as well as a land commission. The MDC argued if the Zanu PF plan was accepted, that would mean Zanu PF would have introduced its pro-status quo draft through the back door.
The MDC-T’s position, according to sources, is that provisions already agreed should be injected into the current constitution through an amendment, with the disputed elements being put to a referendum to run at the same time as elections.
But Zanu PF is poised to reject the MDC-T’s recommendations, fearing defeat at a referendum which would be poisoned by the election mood with the winning political party also carrying the constitutional argument.
The MDC’s recommendation, meanwhile, is that if the parties want Constitutional Amendment 20, the amendments should be confined only to issues which have a bearing on the forthcoming election. The winning party from the general elections would then carry the mandate of writing a new constitution.