November 16, 2004

Constitutional amendments passed

The Mozambican parliament has approved a series of constitutional amendments, modernising and expanding the country's basic law. The constitution is now 306 articles long due to detailing principles that were already in the constitution. An attempt to change the whole structure of governance came off the rails in 1999, when an ad-hoc parliamentary commission had proposed a new constitution that would have switched the country from a presidential to a semi- presidential system, drastically reducing the powers of the head of state and increasing those of parliament and of the Prime Minister. At the last moment, the main opposition party Renamo abandoned its support for the changes. Since there was no longer a two thirds majority for the new constitution, the 1999 amendments were aborted. Because it could not muster the required two thirds majority to pass constitutional amendments on its own, the ruling Frelimo Party had to reach a consensus with the Renamo parliamentary group, which meant to abandon the plans to overhaul the political system and the relations between President, government and parliament.

As a result the President of the Republic is still both head of state and head of government, with complete freedom to appoint whoever he chooses as ministers, deputy ministers, provincial governors and secretaries of state. He also appoints the chief of staff of the armed forces, the commander of the police, the governor and deputy governor of the Bank of Mozambique, and the vice-chancellors of public universities. Should the Assembly of the Republic refuse to pass the government's programme, it is not the government that falls, but the Assembly - the President may dissolve the Assembly and call fresh elections. Although the structure of politics is much the same as in the 1990 constitution, there are a few refinements. One establishes a Council of State as an advisory body to the President. This includes the Prime Minister, the President of the Assembly, the Ombudsman, any former Presidents of the Republic or of the Assembly, the runner-up in the latest presidential election, and 11 "personalities of recognised merit" - four of them chosen by the President and seven by the Assembly. The Council of State will meet whenever the President requests, and must be consulted over any declaration of war, state of siege or state of emergency, the holding of any referendum, dissolving the Assembly, and calling general elections. But the President is quite free to disregard any advice it gives. One limitation on presidential powers is that the President is no longer immune from prosecution. The amendments introduce the possibility of impeachment "for crimes practiced in the exercise of his duties". The Assembly needs a two thirds majority to impeach the President. Such a case would be heard before the Supreme Court, and if found guilty, the President is stripped of his office, and may never run for any elected state office again.

What is potentially a very expensive innovation is the election of provincial assemblies, which will relate to the provincial governments in much the same way as the Assembly of the Republic relates to the central government. Frelimo has in the past argued that, since citizens already elect, their national representatives, and their municipal ones, there is no need for any directly elected provincial body. On this issue, however, it gave way to a Renamo demand. The first elections for provincial assemblies will be held in 2008. The Constitution goes into no details about these assemblies, leaving that up to a future law.

One significant modernising move is the acceptance of dual nationality. Under the 1990 constitution, foreigners who had lived in Mozambique for at least ten years could apply for Mozambican citizenship - but they were required to renounce their previous nationality. This has disappeared. The constitution now simply states that any other nationality a Mozambican citizen may possess has no legal effect within Mozambique. But there is now nothing illegal about holding more than one passport. The amendments also make it impossible for any future parliament to change key parts of the constitution. Matters that cannot be altered include the separation of church and state, the republican form of government, the rights of workers and trade unions, the independence of the judiciary, universal suffrage and the secret ballot, the rights and freedoms of citizens, and the right to "democratic opposition". The only way to change these parts of the constitution will be through a referendum, which will only be valid if more than half of the registered electorate votes. The amended constitution will take effect the day after the results of the December general elections are validated and proclaimed. (Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique, Maputo)

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