September 17, 2007

2008 election law passed / Government to amend Public Order and Security Act

Zimbabwe's parliament has passed a bill on constitutional change that will allow presidential and parliamentary elections in 2008. Members of parliament from both the ruling Zanu-PF and the fractured opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supported the bill.
The bill, the result of talks led by South Africa, allows parliament to pick President Robert Mugabe's successor. The amendments are expected to re-draw electoral boundaries, increase the number of MPs and bring forward parliamentary elections by two years. The bill also allows parliament, dominated by Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF, to choose a presidential successor if the incumbent does not finish his term in office.
Analysts expect Zanu-PF to dominate the joint parliamentary and presidential elections next year and for Mugabe to then put a hand-picked successor in place. But MDC member of parliament Trudy Stevenson stressed that Mugabe may not have enough support within Zanu-PF to install his own choice as president should he leave office early. The MDC supported the bill because it will eliminate appointed MPs from parliament and will make the commission in charge of re-drawing electoral boundaries more independent, said Stevenson. The opposition still wants a completely new constitution, but Stevenson said an understanding had been reached in the mediation process to produce such a document.
However, there has been general consensus among civil groups that the Constitutional Amendment 18 was a betrayal of the Zimbabwean people. As Fambai Ngirande, spokesperson for the umbrella National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO) stressed, there was no broad consultation of Zimbabwean people and civil groups were sidelined from the process. He also described the reforms as "cosmetic changes" that will not help the situation. "We really feel betrayed. The position has always been we should seek a wholesale constitutional process and we have also put on the table a number of pre-conditions that will facilitate the establishment of a human rights commission," Ngirande noted. Asked how they could have been sidelined since they met with the South African mediation team on 18 September, Ngirande said: "That mission really was a tokenistic enterprise by the mediation team to give a semblance of consultation, but in essence there wasn't any interest or particular effort to involve civil society and the various constituencies civil society in Zimbabwe represents."
Amendment 18 has created a serious debate about the way forward for Zimbabwe. There are some who say the opposition has compromised too much or sold out, and others who see the deal as a step towards resolving the crisis.
In the meantime, government has conceded to the demands made by Zimbabweans to amend the Public Order and Security Act (POSA). Since its inception in 2000, POSA has been used by the ruling party to infringe on the fundamental right to freedom of association, and has been selectively applied to prohibit opposition party rallies and civic organisation meetings. This has been viewed as an act of blatant disregard to the right to freedom of expression and association within a democratic society. POSA also created the offence of "insulting the President.
In 2005, the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Patrick Chinamasa, declared outright that the government had no intention of amending this Act as it was a worthy tool in curbing the activities of those who want to effect regime change. In early 2007, State Security Minister Didymus Mutasa also stated that he wished that both POSA and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) would remain on the statute books as they are written for the next 1.000 years.
Whilst the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zimbabwe appreciates the latest developments in the hope that this will help enhance freedom of expression and association as stated in section 20 of the Zimbabwean Constitution, MISA Zimbabwe renews its call for the total repeal of repressive legislation. Cosmetic changes, which are normally brought in by amendments, often do nothing in ensuring that Zimbabweans enjoy their constitutionally guaranteed rights. (ZimOnline, South Africa / Media Institute of Southern Africa, Windhoek)

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