‘The mutilation of Zimbabwe’s constitution is borne of fear, not confidence’
Zimbabwe’s president has signed a controversial bill amending the constitution into law, strengthening his grip on power.
The Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 2) Act gives President Emmerson Mnangagwa new powers to extend the terms of judges who reach retirement age, and appoint senior judges without subjecting them to public interviews.
The Act also dilutes devolution provisions contained in the constitution adopted in 2013, while also scrapping a running mate clause which Mnangagwa’s party feared would leave him vulnerable to an empowered vice president.
Mnangagwa’s assent to over two dozen amendments to the constitution, which were rushed through the National Assembly and the Senate, was announced in a Government Gazette published on Friday.
The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change Alliance condemned the amendments which would not have passed without the help of a smaller splinter opposition faction led by Douglas Mwonzora.
“These amendments to the constitution have nothing to do with enhancing the rights of the people or improving on human rights, democracy and good governance,” MDC Alliance legal secretary Kucaca Phulu said.
“Rather, they are designed to entrench an imperial executive whose power is not adequately checked or balanced.”
MDC Alliance deputy president Tendai Biti said the amendments were a “total disaster for Zimbabwe’s democracy.”
“For decades, we fought the monopolisation of power through the office of an imperial presidency. Twenty years of our struggle have been wiped off by a fascist and his cronies,” Biti said.
Former deputy prime minister Arthur Mutambara warned that Zimbabwe was “irrevocably drifting towards a despicable pariah state devoid of any semblance of the rule of law.”
“The motivation for having a running mate clause was to avoid a situation where the country’s president appoints or allows the ascendancy of weak, mediocre and disposable vice presidents, who are never meant for succession or assumption of the country’s presidency,” Mutambara said.
“The change in the retiring age of judges from 70 to 75 is effectively changing the term limits of the judges. Term limits can only be changed through a referendum, and the current office-bearers are not supposed to benefit from that extension, hence Amendment No. 2 violates Section 328(7) of the constitution, creating a fatal and incurable illegality.”
Lawyers are preparing to challenge the amendments. In particular, they say the extension to the term limits of judges beyond retirement age is designed to benefit Chief Justice Luke Malaba, who would step down on May 15.
“The mutilation of Zimbabwe’s constitution is borne of fear, not confidence,” MDC’s treasury secretary and lawyer David Coltart said. “Zanu PF know they cannot win an election so have in desperation acted to select their own judges. The judiciary is their last defence – legitimising a patently illegal process.”-ZimLive