October 25, 2010

New constitution a failure, say NGOs

Civil society groups have warned that the proposed new constitution could turn out to be damp squib, reflecting the short-term interests of political parties instead of a truly democratic charter that Zimbabweans have long hoped could safeguard basic rights and ensure accountability from the government. According to the report on the constitution outreach programme jointly published by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, Zimbabwe Peace Project and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, the process to draft Zimbabwe’s new governance charter was “remained entirely a de facto contest between ZANU PF and MDC-T, a scenario that appear to have sidelined the views of other stakeholders”. “The risk of a constitutional outcome that reflects an obscene skew towards the short-term interests of political parties remains a threatening reality,” the organisations said in the report made available to ZimOnline at the weekend

Operating under the banner of the Independent Constitution Monitoring Project (ZZZICOMP), the civil society groups said entrenched political positions have distracted from the real issues that ordinary Zimbabweans wanted captured during the outreach meetings. They cited more than 1 000 outreach violations between September 13 and 26 during meetings to round off public consultations in eight of Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces, excluding the capital Harare and the second city Bulawayo. The violations included the use of opening and closing prayer sessions laced with hate language, coaching of participants on what to say and the bussing in of people from other provinces in a bid to neutralize views of other parties.
“Constitution outreach consultations are routinely violated through bussing in of participants to venues that are perceived to be strongholds of rival political parties, singing of party songs at outreach venues, use of hate language, booing of dissenting views, use of venues that were used as bases in the violent-infested 27 June 2008 elections, deploying security agents at venues, (and) use of opening and closing prayers laced with hate language,” the report said.

The majority of the violations were recorded in Mashonaland Central, Midlands and Manicaland provinces where ZANU PF youths, so-called war veterans and state security agents reportedly intimidated villagers into parroting the party’s position. In one such incident, newly resettled farmers in Ward 34 of Headlands in Manicaland were on September 14 threatened with displacement from farms if they strayed from ZANU PF’s position during an outreach meeting held at Nehumba Primary School. In another case, villagers were ordered not to speak during a meeting held on 13 September at Stateland A in Ward 28 of Gokwe-Mapfungautsi constituency. They were told that contributions were the preserve of war veterans and an unnamed army major.

The ZZZICOMP report also said the emerging issues from the outreach meetings included calls for elected provincial governors, the need for a single national vice president and a president aged between 40 and 65 years. There was however no common position on whether the country should continue with the current arrangement where there is a president and a prime minister, with some provinces proposing that only one of these positions should be retained and should have limited powers. (zimonline)

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