June 1, 2004

Deadlock over constitution prolonged

There is still no agreement between Mozambique's ruling Frelimo Party and the opposition Renamo-Electoral Union coalition over last-minute changes to draft constitutional amendments, and each side is blaming the other for the deadlock. Since 2000, an ad-hoc commission of the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, has been revising the constitution. A consensual draft was supposed to have been deposited with the Assembly on 10 May - but Frelimo asked, and was granted, an extension to 31 May. But consensus on final changes proposed by Frelimo was not reached, and 31 May slipped by without any document being deposited. Hence, five years of work might be lost because of a dispute over one word. Frelimo wants to stick with the existing name, the Constitutional Council, for the body charged with supervising elections, and with ruling on whether statutory or administrative acts are in line with the constitution. Renamo wants this body to be named the Constitutional Court. The chairman of the ad-hoc commission, Hermenegildo Gamito, explained that Renamo was violating the commission's agreed methodology. This was that, where consensus was not achieved, the commission would simply revert to the provisions in the existing constitution.

From 1990 until 2003, the powers of the Constitutional Council were exercised by the Supreme Court. But this all changed in late 2003 - due to pressure from Renamo in parliament, a law was passed establishing the Constitutional Council, and its members were elected. The Council dealt with electoral complaints arising from the November local elections and validated the results.

Despite of the disputes, Gamito is still optimistic that the revised constitution could be passed this year. "Frelimo is open to any understanding that would make amending the constitution viable", he said. But he warned that the Assembly would also have to take popular opinion into consideration. When the draft constitution is submitted to public debate, ideas might be thrown up that would force changes in the document. "The constitution doesn't belong to Frelimo or to Renamo - it belongs to the Mozambican people", he insisted. According to him, it looked as though Renamo had lost interest in amending the constitution, but wanted to thrust the blame on Frelimo's shoulders. (Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique, Maputo)

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