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Friday, 28 September, 2001, 18:18 GMT 19:18 UK
'Democratic' constitution for Zimbabwe
Launch of the new constitution
The NCA says existing electoral laws favour Zanu-PF
By our reporter in Harare

A coalition of churches, civic groups, political parties and students has launched a ''democratic'' draft constitution demanding that it be adopted before next year's presidential elections.

The most serious problem in our current constitution is an all-powerful president with all sorts of powers

Douglas Mwonzora
NCA spokesman

The NCA spearheaded the successful campaign against a new constitution in February 2000, which gave President Robert Mugabe his first ever electoral defeat.

'We are headed for exciting times,'' said Lovemore Madhuku, National Constitutional Assembly chairperson and constitutional law expert.

The NCA said it will campaign against any party that rejects the draft constitution in next year's presidential elections and could even encourage mass protests.

Ceremonial president

''If any person believes that this current constitution will deliver change, then that person is mad. It is not up to the government to decide but up to the people to decide,'' said Mr Madhuku.

NCA chairman, Lovemore Madhuku
Madhuku won the 2000 referendum and now he is on the campaign trail again

The key change in the NCA constitution is to limit the president to two, five-year terms of office and reduce his powers.

Under the current constitution, there is no limit to the number of terms a president can serve. Robert Mugabe, 77, has ruled the country since independence in 1980.

The NCA document also proposes reverting to the system of a ceremonial president, as Zimbabwe had immediately after independence.

No confidence

The prime minister would have more executive powers but he would be accountable to parliament, which would be able to pass a vote of no confidence in the government.

Man holding NCA constitution
Can this document change Zimbabwe?

''The most serious problem in our current constitution is an all-powerful president with all sorts of powers,'' according to Douglas Mwonzora, NCA spokesperson.

For the next two months, the public will study and debate the proposals.

Still up for discussion are the issues of abortion, dual citizenship and the funding of political parties.

After the final draft has been endorsed, it will be presented to the Government of Zimbabwe with a demand that it be enacted into law.

Opposition front

But having the dismissed the NCA as front for the opposition MDC party, the government is unlikely to accept the constitution, especially as its own draft was rejected in last February's referendum.

Police wanted to ban the launch and monitored it closely

The violent invasion of white-owned farms began just days after the referendum result was announced.

Zimbabwe has not had a popular constitution since gaining independence from Britain in 1980, following a protracted liberation struggle against the rebel Rhodesian Government of Ian Smith.

The country has been operating on the cease fire document, signed at Lancaster House in Britain in 1979.

Both the ruling Zanu-PF and the opposition agree that the Lancaster House constitution is heavily flawed,

Truth and reconciliation

''The draft guarantees a multi-party system based on regular, free and fair elections. To achieve this ideal, the bill of rights provides a set of political rights and the draft creates a truly independent electoral commission to manage the whole electoral process,'' said Mr Mwonzora.

Political analysts in Zimbabwe say a skewed electoral playing field has helped the ruling party dominate all elections held since independence in 1980.

If this draft is accepted, a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission will be put in place.

Its functions would be to investigate matters relating to past human rights abuses which include:

  • the use of armed force internally within the country,
  • the exercise of the powers to prosecute persons fro crime,
  • the use of presidential powers to pardon offenders.

The government has been accused of gross human rights abuses while some people with close links to top political leadership have been freed from jail under controversial presidential pardons.

For instance, when bodyguards of Vice President Simon Muzenda shot and injured Patrick Kombayi, an opposition party candidate, the two were later released under a presidential pardon.

And following the violence associated with last year's parliamentary elections, Mr Mugabe announced an amnesty for all political crimes except murder, rape and fraud.

See also:

15 Feb 00 | Africa
Analysis: Zimbabwe warns Mugabe
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