Highlights: ZESN Public Meeting on “The Implications of Constitutional Amendment Bill No.2 on Zimbabwe’s Electoral Democracy”

On Tuesday 16 June 2020, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), hosted the third virtual Public Meeting in the series “Making Elections Make Sense in the COVID-19 Era.” The meeting had six panelists representing varied expertise on the subject areas of the proposed provisions in the Constitutional Amendment Bill. These comprised of Constitutional Law Expert Prof Reg Austin; Constitutional Law Expert Dr. Alex Magaisa; Gender expert and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Zimbabwe Gender Commission; Mrs. Virginia Muwanigwa, Gender Expert and Director of the Women in Politics Support Unit; Mrs. Sakhile Sifelani-Ngoma; Youth Expert and Director of the Youth Empowerment Transformation Trust (YETT) , Ms. Rosewita Katsande and Hon. Misheck Mataranyika, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs. The panelists made presentations on issues of expertise pertaining to the Constitutional Amendment Bill No.2 and these were followed by a discussion where participants were allowed to give their submissions on the topic. The meeting attracted a total of 100 participants.

The meeting started off with Hon. Mataranyika giving the procedural aspects of the Constitutional Amendment Bill No.2 and the ongoing Public Hearings. He gave the background to the Bill and the process that the Bill had to go through, noting that the process had stalled for some time following the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. He also explained the Constitutional requirements for enacting a Bill and the special requirements for a Constitutional Bill. Hon. Mataranyika noted that Parliament is mandated to facilitate public engagement on the process of enacting a Bill. He also observed that although the current environment is not wholly conducive for the public hearing process, Parliament has made provisions for phone in programmes and written submissions on the Constitutional Amendment Bill.

He emphasized that as Parliament, they have a duty to continue to provide an oversight role despite the circumstances. Asked to comment on his presentation, other panelists were of the opinion that the Parliament was unnecessarily concentrating on the Constitutional Amendment process, which could have waited until the environment had become more conducive. They accused Parliament for neglecting other priorities such as how to deal with the COVID-19 situation.

The presentation by Prof. Reg Austin focused on the running mate’s provisions in the Amendment Bill. He noted that the proposal to do away with the running mates provisions is not a good idea as the provision was going to ensure security of tenure for the Vice –President. Other panelists concurred with this notion, noting that the removal of the provision takes away the power from the people to elect who leads them.

Prof. Austin’s remarks on Delimitation explained the importance of the census as a prerequisite of the Delimitation of electoral boundaries process. He noted that the census process provides an excellent basis for the delimitation process. He suggested that the timing of the census should be pushed back so that there is enough time for the census report to be finalized and used for the delimitation process before the elections. Another issue raised by panelists on the delimitation process was on who should be tasked with the administration of the process, and the general consensus was that the mandate of ZEC should be left to count ballots therefore there is need for instituting an independent body to oversee the process.

Dr. Alex Magaisa’s presentation was on the proposed Amendments on Judicial appointments and the retirement of Judges. He emphasized the principles of meritocracy, accountability and checks and balances that need to be followed when it comes to the judiciary. Dr. Magaisa acknowledged that the current system is more open and transparent as it consists of nominations by the Judicial Services Commission and the conduct of public interviews. He noted that the proposed changes to the Constitution are retrogressive as they are taking us to the past which we had moved from. He bemoaned this situation of wanting to move from the current position which promotes openness in the appointment and tenure of judges, to the proposed situation which is shrouded in secrecy and results in the centralization of power in the person of the President.

Dr. Magaisa also spoke about the proposed measures on devolution, and recommended that Harare and Bulawayo be left out of the provincial chair arrangements as is currently the case. He noted that having provincial chairs in these metropolitan provinces have the potential of resulting in rivalry with the Mayors, causing problems in the running of Councils. He applauded the proposal to remove the Members of Parliament from sitting in Council but noted that this is only a piecemeal amendment as there are many other amendments that still need to be put in place before devolution can be regarded as comprehensive.

The presentation on the proposed Youth Quota emphasized that the youth fraternity are not in agreement with the proposal of 10 additional seats for youth in Parliament. Katsande noted that this proposition will only increase the fiscus without enhancing youth participation in Parliament, and does not conform to the dictates of Section 20 of the Constitution. She also noted that this proposition does not promote representation and inclusiveness of young people and does not address structural challenges of youth exclusion. She castigated the culture of gerontocracy and adultism which fails to honour and give a chance to the youth.

On the subject of the women’s Quota, the two presenters, Muwanigwa and Sifelani-Ngoma representing the women sector, totally rejected the proposed amendment of extending the Women’s Quota. They noted that the 60 seats given under this quota are inadequate and that there should be measures put in place to ensure 50/50 representation of women in political life in accordance with Section 56 of the Constitution. The women recommended that the Quota system be done away with as it has not achieved much since it was instituted. They criticized it by saying that it does not address barriers to women participation and does not speak to inclusion of women in important political processes. They also blamed the system for giving women a complacency that something had been done about their representation.

In response to the presentation by the women, Hon. Mataranyika asked them to give proposals on how best to implement the 50/50 women, and the women proposed the change of the Electoral system to that of Proportional representation, and also the enforcement of gender balance in political party lists.

Overall, the general opinion among panelists and participants was that the amendment of the Constitution at this point is largely unnecessary, as most of the proposals can be addressed by alternative legislation rather than a Constitutional Amendment. Another popular recommendation was to concentrate on the alignment of the legislation to the Constitution. The meeting was a great success as it allowed the sharing of ideas by different stakeholders. The meeting which was also beamed live on the ZESN Facebook page had 912 views, reaching a cumulative total of 9 768 people with 596 engagements.

Source: Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN)